They are matches made in Democratic political consultant heaven: More than a dozen statewide candidates whose fortunes could turn on turnout by women, each paired with the woman getting ready to run again toward what she’s dubbed “that highest, hardest glass ceiling in American politics.”
In the final four weeks before an election, there’s really only one surefire way to generate “positive-earned media,” the euphemism for getting the campaign’s message on the local news for free and without much filter. That’s to import someone like-minded from the political A-list to talk up the candidate at a rally or photogenic factory tour. And about the best way into the pockets of the local donors who haven’t “maxed out” yet is to persuade that same big surrogate to stick around for a fundraiser after the TV crews have left the scene.
In the pantheon of Democratic celebrities, of course, Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton stand apart, and the former president generated ample attention Monday when he started two days of barnstorming in his native Arkansas with a rally for Sen. Mark Pryor, who’s now a slight underdog for a third term, and gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross, the former congressman.
But while Bill Clinton is out to remind the folks back home of their past fondness for white-guy Democratic moderates, it’s Hillary Clinton who is all-but-officially out to capture the party’s future — which is what’s making her the biggest “get” of all this fall.
All of a sudden, she is hardly being stingy with her time. After steering almost entirely clear of the public campaign trail in the six years since her first run for president, the former secretary of State has now mapped an October that includes stumping or fundraising in a dozen states. Half have been intensely contested in recent national elections and several are also pivotal players in the Democratic nominating process. She’s going to put herself out there to try to influence the outcome of at least seven Senate elections, five races for governor’s mansions and even a handful of House contests.
Eight of the 14 candidates Clinton has agreed to help are women. But in almost every case where she’s going in for a male candidate, a decent chance at victory will require significant turnout by female voters on Nov. 4.
The current itinerary (first detailed last week by Politico) might get adjusted a bit in the days ahead. But the signal it is sending seems clear. When Clinton took the hay-baled stage in Iowa three weeks ago, her first trip there since 2008, it was more than a highly choreographed political aberration. It was the start of this fall’s dress rehearsal for 2016, with several objectives. Those include testing and refining her newly-populist rhetoric, underscoring the rise of women as a political force and doing favors she hopes will be returned in the next year or two.
The tour (which will also include several opportunities for hawking her “Hard Choices” memoir) opened last week in the critical swing-state of Florida. Clinton spent the day in Miami selling books and then brought in $1 million for Charlie Crist, the ex-Republican ex-governor who’s now in a tossup quest to win his old job back as a Democrat.
She’ll be raising money in California for a pair of top-dollar fundraisers on Oct. 20 — a midday event hosted by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco to benefit House candidates, and a dinner where she’s guest of honor in Los Angeles benefiting the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
On Wednesday, she’ll raise money in Chicago for Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois, whose bid for a second term is in serious jeopardy. (Michelle Obama, though she’s doing less midterm campaigning than the former first lady, is headlining a Tuesday rally for Quinn.) Clinton will pass through New York on Thursday, long enough to be the top attraction at a fundraiser for Pryor, before headlining a “Women for Wolf” rally outside the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia for businessman Tom Wolf, favored to oust GOP Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania.
Another gubernatorial candidate that’s been given a chance to stand in Clinton’s shadow this month is Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts attorney general who has seen another of her once-formidable leads narrow in recent days.
Her efforts to help her party hold the Senate will intensify near the middle of the month. She has promised to stump for two incumbents in tight races, Kay Hagan in North Carolina and Mark Udall of Colorado, whose states combine for 24 electoral votes that will be coveted by both presidential nominees in 2016. And she’s promised to appear with the two women who have the most realistic shots at upsets that would take seats away from the GOP: Michelle Nunn in Georgia and Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky.
Clinton also is planning her second trip to Iowa of the fall, this time hoping to boost Rep. Bruce Braley in his tight Senate bid and former state Sen. Staci Appel in her tossup quest to claim an open GOP House seat. And she’ll cap the cycle in New Hampshire, locale of the first presidential primaries. Clinton’s get-out-the-women’s-vote rally on Nov. 2, two days before the election, is billed as an event for both Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Gov. Maggie Hassan, but the state’s two House members, both female Democrats in tight re-election races, should get some benefit. (Clinton appeared at a New York fundraiser for Shaheen last week.)
To be sure, all sorts of presidential possibilities are playing the guest star game this month, ranging from former Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia (off to New Hampshire in two weeks) to GOP Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio (in Iowa last week). But as with so much else in politics these past three decades, nobody is working the angles as forcefully or purposefully as someone named Clinton.