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January 27, 2014 4:00 PM Iowa To Hillary: Show Us Some Love (and Money)

By Ed Kilgore

There’s a (probably unintentionally) hilarious story up at Buzzfeed by Ruby Cramer about the first efforts in Iowa by the Ready for Hillary PAC, mostly focusing on veteran Clinton hand Craig Smith. Having spent some time showing the flag and building lists in the First-in-the-Nation Caucus State, Smith and company encountered some pointed hints from local Democrats:

“You guys have to tell us how to do this. You’ve got to tell us what works for you,” Smith said. “You tell me. How do we go from here?”
For many Democrats in the room, there was no clear answer to Smith’s question. While Ready for Hillary members said they intend to lay early Iowa groundwork for a potential campaign, the group seemed prepared only to set up tables at state events, hand out bumper stickers, and collect more names for a list they presume Clinton’s eventual campaign will purchase. The locals who attended the meetings had another suggestion: If Ready for Hillary wants to build support, it should help Iowa Democrats win races this year.
“We got a little something ahead of us first,” said Ken Sager, the president of Iowa Federation of Labor. During the first meeting of the day with other union officials, Sager said his mind was on the year ahead, not 2016. This fall, Iowa has a governor’s race, an open U.S. Senate seat, and two U.S. congressional races. And Democrats are hanging onto their majority in the state Senate by one seat.
During another meeting with elected officials and candidates, state Sen. Jack Hatch, Iowa’s likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee, also asked the group to get involved in the midterms. “We want you to play in the 2014 elections,” Hatch said. “What we need is money and volunteers and cooperation.”

Smith appeared to play dumb, and suggest that maybe another pro-Clinton group, the PrioritiesUSA Super-PAC, might have more loose change to spend in Iowa than RFH.

I’m guessing he was playing possum, though. The article mentions that Smith’s meetings were set up by veteran Iowa fundraiser Jerry Crawford, and also long-time Iowa Caucus organizers Jackie Norris (who ran Obama’s field operation there in 2008) and Teresa Vilmain (who ran Clinton’s that year, and has been working in Iowa since the late 80s). I’m reasonably sure Smith was briefed on the implicit arrangement in which prospective presidential campaigns heavily subsidize Iowa Democratic operations (the same thing happens on the Republican side) between and going into elections. Cramer certainly heard about it:

It’s common practice for presidential hopefuls to invest either money or manpower in other Iowa campaigns one election cycle out from the presidential race. John Edwards did it in 2006. John Kerry did it in 2002. Peggy Huppert, a prominent Democrat in the state, remembers a staffer for Evan Bayh, who considered caucusing, staying in an extra room in her basement during Iowa’s midterm election campaigns in 2006.
“Other campaigns did that too. You give money — cash — from your leadership PAC or you send paid staff,” said Huppert, who did not attend Saturday’s meetings. “It was to build favor, and it works. When you’re thinking about running but you haven’t announced yet, that’s the most effective thing to do.”

In a recent post on Brian Schweitzer’s swing through Iowa, I noted that the need for out-of-state money gave Iowa Democrats a strong incentive to encourage a competitive presidential nominating contest, and barring that, a lot of early money from the front-runner:

From a purely Iowa-centric point-of-view, the best scenario would probably be for HRC’s backers to pour a lot of early preemptive money into the state—and then for Clinton herself to decide against running, creating a wide-open nomination fight. In any event, keeping HRC engaged is presently a categorical imperative. Keep that in mind when you read this or any other early talk from or about Iowa.

Either way, Iowans expect to see some love—and money—from Team Hillary ASAP. Maybe Craig Smith didn’t bring the checkbook in his first trip to Iowa, but I suspect the pursestrings will be opened before long.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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