Of all the non-events to get major Iowa caucus coverage, this past weekend’s “Ready for Hillary” meeting in Des Moines must be among the most ridiculous.
One significant piece of news emerged from the pro-Hillary super PAC’s first foray to Iowa, though. Jackie Norris, who managed Barack Obama’s 2008 general election campaign here, is now publicly on the Hillary bandwagon. In other words, one of the most important early Obama supporters in Iowa has just told any other would-be 2016 Democratic presidential contenders, “You’re on your own.”
The stated purpose of Craig Smith’s visit to Iowa was to help the Ready for Hillary super PAC start building a pro-Clinton organization.
“If we build it, she will come,” said one of the meeting’s organizers, Bonnie Campbell, a former Iowa attorney general and Clinton administration appointee. […]
The group was founded last January to help convince Clinton to run for president a second time. On the day of the group’s first birthday, Smith and three other Ready for Hillary operatives met with more than a hundred Iowans – activists and union leaders, former Obama staffers and former Clinton staffers – in the critical caucus state where Clinton managed a disappointing third-place finish last time around.
Jerry Crawford, an Iowa fundraiser with deep ties to the Clintons, helped organize the meetings, along with a powerful duo: Jackie Norris and Teresa Vilmain, the Iowa state directors to the Obama and Clinton campaigns, respectively. “Our goal,” said Crawford, sitting near Smith, “is to build the most exhaustive grassroots-up organization in the history of the Iowa caucuses.”
The day took the shape of a fact-finding mission for the group that has focused largely so far on building a list of people who say they want Clinton to run. After explaining Ready for Hillary at the start of each meeting, Smith then solicited advice.
“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?”
If we build it, she will come? How absurd. As I’ve discussed at Bleeding Heartland before, I am not and never have been a Hillary Clinton fan. That said, only one factor will determine whether Clinton wins the next presidential nomination: whether she chooses to run. If she runs, she wins. It doesn’t matter how many rank and file Democrats start organizing now. Opinion poll data from last year suggest that despite Hillary’s third-place finish in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, she would have no trouble winning the Iowa caucuses in 2016. (I’m excluding polls that deliberately asked the wrong questions in order to make the Iowa caucuses appear highly competitive.)
True, some of Clinton’s backers wrongly believed they couldn’t lose last time. But today’s political context is different.
No matter how many times different people keep publishing the same article about Hillary’s alleged “Iowa problem,” the fact remains that her campaign did not perform poorly here in 2008. Yes, they made some mistakes, but mostly they got beaten by Obama’s top-rate organization. Roughly 70,000 Iowans came out on a cold January night to caucus for Hillary Clinton. That is not too shabby. The ranks of Clinton caucus-goers surely included a lot of first-timers, because the previous record Iowa Democratic caucus attendance was about 125,000 in 2004.
Clinton would enter the next campaign in a much stronger position, not only in Iowa but across the country. Many Democrats are ready to elect the first woman president, and Clinton obviously clears the threshold in terms of having the experience to do the job.
So Clinton doesn’t need her fans to start organizing for her. But even if she did, why would her most devoted supporters get excited about signing up with Ready for Hillary? The idea that a super PAC will spawn an “exhaustive grassroots-up organization” makes no sense.
I stand by my prediction that no Democrat of major stature will run for president in 2016 if Hillary runs, not even the ambitious types who have visited Iowa lately (Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Senator Amy Klobuchar). But for the sake of argument, let’s say I’m wrong, and someone like Schweitzer, or perhaps Senator Elizabeth Warren, is considering a presidential campaign, running as a progressive alternative to Hillary.
Such a candidate would need to end the inevitability narrative quickly, replicating the Obama campaign’s phenomenal effort to break through in a small, early state. Who is going to run that campaign, now that Jackie Norris of all people has pledged to help Clinton win Iowa?
Although Jackie and her husband John Norris initially supported Clinton loyalist Tom Vilsack during the 2008 presidential cycle, it didn’t take long for them to choose Obama once Vilsack had ended his campaign. Months after Iowa had played its part in the nominating drama, enmity between some Obama and Clinton partisans here continued to grow, to the point where Jackie Norris refused to organize convention-watching parties around the state on the night Hillary Clinton was to address the Democratic National Convention in August.
People can whine about how Clinton doesn’t play the Iowa game as well as Joe Biden and hasn’t set foot in our fine state for six years. People can fume about how Senator Claire McCaskill insulted Iowans by saying Democrats have already chosen Hillary as the nominee. People can fret about the inevitability train as a mortal threat to the Iowa caucuses.
But here’s an inconvenient truth: Jackie Norris just did more than any Clinton loyalist could ever have done to ensure that there will be no real Iowa caucus competition in 2016. Not only does any potential “David” have no hope of lining up top talent from Obama’s 2008 campaign, Norris will be strategizing for (and perhaps eventually working on behalf of) Goliath.
Deterring other potential candidates may not have been Norris’ primary goal in associating with Ready for Hillary, but her intentions don’t change the calculus.
Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.
UPDATE: In the comments, Bleeding Heartland user RF raises an excellent point:
Clearly, both John and Jackie Norris were very important players in the campaign – probably the most important Iowa insiders on the Obama team. But one should not forget that it was Paul Tewes who ran Obama’s caucus campaign. From where I was sitting, I credit much of the Obama campaign’s success to Tewes. – My point here is, there are an awful lot of very capable political operatives all around the country, and many of them have been involved in Iowa campaigns in the past. While I agree that this Jackie Norris news is significant, I don’t think it in any way prevents a potential challenger putting together a tremendous caucus campaign team.
I should have made clear that while Jackie Norris did work on the Iowa caucus campaign, she wasn’t Obama’s top staffer in Iowa until the 2008 general election period.
P.S. – Bleeding Heartland readers may recall that after a brief stint running First Lady Michelle Obama’s staff, Jackie Norris became senior adviser to the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. She is now executive director of the Points of Light Corporate Institute in Washington, DC.
John Norris left the Iowa Utilities Board to serve as chief of staff for U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack, beginning in 2009. At the end of that year, the Senate confirmed him to serve on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a position he still holds. In fact, last year he was a near-miss to become the new leader of FERC. Norris told an energy trade publication that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid “intervened with the White house to stop my appointment as chair because, as told to me by his chief of staff, I was ‘too pro-coal.’” Reid’s chief of staff denied that report, but Norris stood by his claim:
“Sen. Reid opposed my appointment to become chairman of FERC because I was ‘too pro-coal,’” Norris wrote in an email. “His chief of staff confirmed that with me and cited to me a vote I made when on the Iowa Utilities Board, upon which they based this claim. I expressed to him that is a total mischaracterization of my record and requested an apology.”
Perhaps Norris feels unfairly accused of being pro-coal, because as an Iowa Utilities Board member, he supported a ruling on ratemaking principles that prompted a utility to walk away from a planned coal-fired power plant in Marshalltown. But he could have killed that project much earlier, saving environmental and public health advocates a lot of time and money. Moreover, as an Iowa Utilities Board member, Norris bought into the false spin that Iowa would need new nuclear or coal-fired plants to meet our baseload demand for electricity. In reality, we are not only meeting baseload demand but generating enough to export electricity to other states, even as utilities agree to retire more and more old coal plants.