Hillary Rodham Clinton looms large as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, but she could be a major factor in the 2014 elections too.
Ready for Hillary, the group organizing supporters nationwide for a potential Clinton presidential campaign, says it will ask its members to support candidates endorsed by Clinton in the 2014 midterm elections, and to push her policy agenda over the next two years.
In addition, Clinton could decide to campaign for 2014 Democratic candidates, many of whom are old friends and allies. She helped two candidates get elected this fall — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. Doing the same in 2014 could help her amass support for a presidential run and help retain a Democratic-controlled Senate for a future President Clinton to work with. It could also help her decide whether she still has enough fun doing it to run for the presidency again.
Democratic campaign committee operatives say they hope Clinton will stump for her party in 2014, though they won't say so on the record because she hasn't yet discussed doing so. Republicans say they're sure she will.
"We anticipate there will be some appearances … on the campaign trail and some testing in some of these races for themes and things that might work for the prospective Clinton campaign,'' said Brad Dayspring, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Clinton's office would not comment on whether she will campaign for Democrats next year. "It's still 2013, so a bit too early to start addressing 2014,'' spokesman Nick Merrill said.
Clinton isn't likely to become a candidate herself until after the 2014 elections, if ever. "She thinks the country should spend at least another year working very hard on the problems that we have,'' former president Bill Clinton said earlier this month on CNN. "It's a big mistake, this constant four-year peripatetic campaign.''
He is expected to pitch in next year: he has already appeared at a fundraiser for Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor and made a video for the campaign of Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is challenging Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.
"I think you will see President Clinton (on the trail), I can say that for certain,'' said Matt Canter of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Political operatives say they can't imagine Hillary Clinton not campaigning in 2014 if only because she again has close ties to several candidates, including Pryor, Grimes and New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, whose husband was Clinton's state chairman in 2008. Guy Cecil, who is charged with preserving the Democratic majority in the Senate as executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, served as Clinton's field director during her 2008 presidential run.
If Clinton helps Democrats win in 2014, it would solidify the support of a pro-Hillary swath of the political elite well before the first 2016 primary. But if Democrats lose widely in midterm elections, that could tarnish her.
"It's a matter of political momentum, who's on the winning side and who's on the losing side of that debate,'' Dayspring said. "Are they yesterday's news or are they tomorrow's news? If she associates herself … with losing candidates or the candidates of yesterday, that's a risk.''
Whether Clinton is campaigning next year or not, the people who want her to be president will be.
Ready for Hillary says it will be active in 2014 races that Hillary supports, just as it directed its members to help McAuliffe after Clinton campaigned for him this year. The group says it has raised $1.25 million and has 25,000 donors and 1.1 million "likes" on its Facebook page.
"We know that we have an opportunity to take the energy and excitement that people have about a potential Hillary candidacy and communicate with those supporters in a way that's helpful to the Democratic Party as a whole,'' spokesman Seth Bringman said.
"We're going to look to engage our supporters in those elections….They're very excited about 2016 but there are issues and efforts that are very important in the meantime.''
Getting Hillary Clinton supporters to work on 2014 issues and campaigns "serves two goals: to help pass policy or legislation that matters to the supporters of Ready for Hillary, and it allows us to develop the volunteer organization,'' said senior adviser Mitch Stewart.
The 2 million volunteers who worked for Obama's re-election were the result of early efforts by Organizing for America, said Stewart, who was national director of that group and then the Obama campaign's battleground states director. "You can't manufacture that size of organization in six months. The earlier you start the bigger it will be.''
EMILY's List, which backs pro-abortion rights Democrats, is raising money and support for 2014 candidates including Kentucky Senate candidate Allison Lundergan Grimes, but at the same time involving members in its Madam President program, which recruits supporters for a woman female presidential candidate. The group has held Madam President town-hall-style meetings in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states of the 2016 race, and will hold a third in Nevada next month.
"It's really about making sure that we're building that base of support and capturing that momentum,'' spokeswoman Marcy Stech said. "There will be a woman on the ticket in 2016. That is our hope and that is what our campaign is about.''
A new Des Moines Register Iowa Poll shows.Democrats overwhelmingly approve of Clinton, with 89% saying they have a positive opinion about her. Iowa Republicans favor Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin; he gets a 73% positive rating.The ratings put the two the forefront of the potential 2016 presidential candidates in the nation's kick-off voting state.