This is What Inevitability Looks Like: How Hillary Clinton Won the Invisible Primary (Part 1)

Any doubts about whether Hillary Clinton intends to run for president in 2016 were dispelled in early April when Politico reported that some entity or individual — the details are still not clear — signed a lease to rent two floors in Brooklyn Heights, New York as the site of her campaign headquarters.

According to rules set by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), such clear campaign-related activities necessitate that Mrs. Clinton file the necessary paperwork with the FEC within 15 days, which would amount to an official declaration of her candidacy. An announcement is therefore likely imminent.

To political observers, this announcement will come as no surprise. While the first primary — the Iowa caucuses — is still 9 months away, Clinton appears to have decisively won the “invisible primary.”

The invisible primary is the term used for the pre-election stage where would-be candidates gauge the public’s receptivity to their candidacy, size up the intentions of the class of mega-donors, and, since the Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010, monitor the strength of their respective super PACs.

The obvious question is, how did Clinton win the invisible primary so handily?

One component is a large, powerful, and diverse network of power-players — some well-known, others less so — who have collaborated to enable a smooth transition between teams Obama and Clinton.

One such figure is David Brock.

Formerly a confessed “right-wing hit man” and opponent of the Clintons in the early 1990s, Brock underwent a political conversion toward the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency and quickly became a Democratic loyalist. In 2004, he founded Media Matters, a media watchdog group that claims to combat misinformation espoused by conservatives.

Brock also founded the super PAC, American Bridge, in 2010, and deployed “trackers” across the country during the 2012 elections to scavenge for embarrassing statements made by Republican candidates. One such tracker, for instance, spotted Senate candidate Todd Akin spout the now infamous remark about “legitimate rape” while watching a local TV broadcast in Missouri.

Brock has been a stalwart defender of Hillary Clinton, during and after her tenure as secretary of state. Media Matters published numerous rebuttals to innuendos and accusations about Secretary Clinton’s handling of the attack on Benghazi and the alleged cover-up, and a team of more than a dozen American Bridge workers runs a website, “Correct the Record,” devoted to countering slights against Mrs. Clinton.

In October 2014, for instance, the site published a detailed, point-by-point rebuttal to an article published in Harper’s that was critical of her record.

David Brock, until February 2015, also sat on the board of another influential super PAC, Priorities USA Action. Formerly a pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities geared up for the 2016 presidential race not long after President Obama’s re-election. Former White House staffer and 2012 campaign manager for Obama, Jim Messina, joined Priorities in January 2014.

The third major super PAC, in addition to Brock’s American Bridge and Priorities USA Action, is Ready for Hillary, co-founded in early 2013 by Adam Parkhomenko and Allida Black. Like Priorities, it too benefits from collaboration with veterans of President Obama’s campaigns by recruiting battleground-strategist Mitch Stewart and national field director Jeremy Bird. More recently, former Obama pollster Joel Benenson and media strategist Jim Margolis also made the switch.

Together, these three super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited funds so long as they disclose their donors and do not coordinate with a candidate, have already raised lots of money. According to FEC filings, American Bridge and Ready for Hillary raised a combined $29 million in 2013 and 2014.

According to FEC filings, American Bridge and Ready for Hillary raised a combined $29 million in 2013 and 2014.
Andrew Gripp, IVN Independent Author
However, coordinating their efforts – particularly in regards to fundraising – has proven difficult and has at times strained relationships.

For instance, one micro-scandal involves Democratic fundraiser Mary Pat Bonner, who takes a 12.5 percent commission off the donations made to the nearly 10 groups associated with David Brock. One billionaire donor, Vin Ryan, was unaware of this arrangement when he wrote a check to Media Matters. The Association of Fundraising Professionals considers the taking of commissions by fundraisers to be unethical.

Another flare-up occurred when David Brock left the board of Priorities in February 2015 over what he believed were efforts by that organization to orchestrate “political hit jobs” against his own pro-Hillary groups.

Since then, the two leading super PACs — Priorities and Ready for Hillary — agreed to differentiate their fundraising efforts. Ready for Hillary, in keeping with its grassroots image, would seek donations less than $25,000, while Priorities would target the bigger spenders.

Priorities has pledged to collect $1 million donations from 30 different donors in time for the official start of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign and is currently one-third of the way toward reaching this goal.

If a network of powerful and wealthy organizations is the first component of her success in the invisible primary, the second component is a deep bench of public relations gurus and policy experts who have shaped her public persona and counseled her regarding her messaging on public policy — especially on the economy.

Mrs. Clinton has turned to the corporate world for an image makeover. As reported by the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Anne Gearan, one trusted adviser in the development of the “Clinton brand” is Wendy Clark, a senior marketer and brand strategist for Coca-Cola, who launched the “Share a Coke” campaign featuring names on the side of soda cans and bottles.

Another leading public relations adviser is Roy Spence, who has done marketing for DoubleTree, Southwest Airlines, and Wal-Mart. Spence co-founded the Purpose Institute with Rushing (the organization’s “chief purposeologist”) and believes that Hillary can win over the public by having her reveal “Hillary’s heart,” as he advised during her 2008 presidential bid.

Some Clintonites attribute her failed campaign in 2008 to her decision to act on the advice of long-time Clinton pollster and strategist Mark Penn, who recommended that she pose as a strong and confident policy wonk.

In this regard, Spence agrees with the newest addition to Mrs. Clinton’s communications team, Kristina Schake. Most recently, Schake promoted the initiatives of First Lady Michelle Obama, including her “Let’s Move!” campaign, before joining L’Oréal USA as the company’s chief communications officer. Her task is to undo Mrs. Clinton’s image as shrewd and aloof and to market her a relatable, likeable, and trustworthy candidate.

On this front, Mrs. Clinton has also turned to strategists and data-experts from the public affairs firm, Dewey Square Group, and the pro-Democrat PAC, EMILY’s List, to find ways to maximize her appeal to women voters.

Currently, Mrs. Clinton’s Twitter bio identifies her first as a “[w]ife, mom, lawyer, women & kids advocate,” as well as a “dog owner, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, [and] glass ceiling cracker.”

Continue Reading: This is What Inevitability Looks Like: How Hillary Clinton Won the Invisible Primary (Part 2)

Photo Source: Bloomberg