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The Hillary hype: Buzz about possible campaign is double-edged sword

by Chris Cillizza

The Washington Post

There is a super PAC to support her and another one that is trying, at least in part, to stop her. Every word she utters is parsed by cable television commentators, bloggers and anyone with a political pulse for indications of which way she is leaning. And, there are still more than 900 days between now and Jan. 1, 2016.

Welcome to the Hillary Rodham Clinton presidential speculation sweepstakes, a process that not only has begun earlier than it did before Clinton ran for president in 2008 but also is significantly more well developed — on both sides of the equation.

“It did start earlier this time around,” said Brian Wolff, a longtime senior aide to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “You have the confluence of her being the anointed nominee [and] Obama supporters’ overwhelming support for her.”

Already there is Ready for Hillary, a super PAC that is designed to prime the pump for a Clinton presidential bid that has among its supporters longtime Clinton confidant Harold Ickes and even Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill a strong backer of Sen. Barack Obama in the 2008 primary fight.

And just last month, America Rising, a conservative-aligned super PAC, launched the Stop Hillary 2016 website, which is designed to raise money and support for its efforts to “prevent Americans from ever having to see another Clinton in the White House.”

At this point in the run-up to the 2008 election, Clinton was running for a second term in the Senate and deflecting all questions about her future political engagements until that race concluded in late 2006.

While Republicans attempted to recruit a serious contender against her in that 2006 race in hopes of forcing her to spend some time — and some of her money — in the Empire State, they failed miserably. She eventually announced her presidential campaign on Jan. 20, 2007.

While there is broad agreement in the political world that the Clinton hype has started sooner than it did last time, there are differing opinions as to whether that is a good or a bad thing for her if she does decide to run.

“What worries me about the super PACs and groups starting so early is that it is hard to sustain a movement based on an idea — sooner or later, enthusiasm will stall and supporters will want a decision by the person,” said Penny Lee, a former executive director at the Democratic Governors Association and now a lobbyist. “You want to make sure that need for a decision coincides with Hillary’s own timing and doesn’t force her to make a decision before she is ready.”

There have already been some grumbles about Ready for Hillary and whether its stated goal of clearing a path for Clinton when she decides to run might have the opposite effect — by, as Lee suggests, forcing her hand before she is ready to decide on running or making her look political before she wants to appear that way.

Others argue, however, that all of the early jockeying and planning around the possibility of Clinton running again ultimately is a good thing for her if she wants to run.

“I’m one who believes the early hype is a good thing on both fronts if managed properly,” said Republican Party media consultant Fred Davis, who handled advertising for the presidential campaign of Arizona Sen. John McCain. “She’s basically able to imply her opponents can huff and puff — but this time you’ll never blow this house down.”

Managing the attention that all of this early activity has created around Clinton is critical.

On the one hand, she benefits from being seen as nonpolitical (or at least not a candidate) for as long as possible. On the other, if all of the buzz forces the media to litigate Clinton’s problems — or potential problems — now rather than in the heat of a 2016 presidential campaign, that’s a plus for her.

Also worth considering: Clinton, while one of the most famous people in the world, is out of office and, therefore, has no natural way of making news or driving an issue agenda. She clearly views her involvement in the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation as that vehicle, although it remains to be seen just how effective she can drive a message from that perch.

Whether all of the attention is a good thing or bad thing in the long run then depends on what Clinton and her political team — who is in her inner circle remains unclear — can make of it.

“It’s a double-edged sword. Early hype can deter viable challenges, but it also invites the kind of scrutiny that can deflate a bubble very quickly,” said Phil Singer, a senior staffer in Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. “The team needs to manage the buzz carefully.”