Ready for Hillary: New Backers, High-Profile Endorsements Lend Legitimacy to Pro-Clinton Super PAC

PHOTO: Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the Vital Voices Global Awards ceremony at the Kennedy Center in Washington, April 2, 2013.
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In a world of proliferating super PACs run by well-known Washington power players, this one might have been easily dismissed.

Its founders -- a 61-year-old former college professor and a 27-year-old former campaign aide -- seemed an unlikely pair to stir up grassroots support for 2016's most-talked-about potential presidential candidate.

But since its formation earlier this year and its official launch at the beginning of the month, the Ready for Hillary PAC has already had an impressive track record. The group, which calls itself "the nation's premier organization urging former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to run for president in 2016 and laying the groundwork of support for her potential candidacy," has developed more than a whiff of legitimacy.

According to organizers, financial contributions -- more than 1,000 of them -- have been pouring in. Activists have gathered for boisterous pro-Hillary events outside two of the former secretary of state's recent speaking appearances (in Washington, D.C., and New York). And Ready for Hillary has built a slick website and a fast-growing social media presence.

Ready for Hillary has also amped up its credibility in a big way over the past two weeks with a series of high-profile endorsements from three prominent Clinton backers: Democratic strategist James Carville, long-time Clinton confidant Harold Ickes and former California congresswoman Ellen Tauscher.

"She needs to know -- and it's our goal to demonstrate to her and to the country -- that there's an army ready to help her candidacy," the group's communications director Seth Bringman said in an interview with ABC News.

What began as a quirky venture run by Bringman and a handful of Clinton fanatics, is suddenly looking a lot more serious. Organizers are assembling something of a shadow campaign-in-waiting, complete with an email list 150,000 supporters strong -- and growing. And although the super PAC would be legally barred from coordinating with Clinton's campaign if she decides to run, the group's success in cultivating a grassroots network, raising money and sparking genuine passion for her candidacy (a political ingredient that Barack Obama arguably had in greater supply in 2008) could send a powerful signal to potential challengers from both parties and to Clinton herself, who remains the group's most important target audience.

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Bringman said that the recent support from both Carville and Ickes was a "huge" boost for the organization.

"I'm not going to waste my time writing you about how great Hillary is or how formidable she'd be -- you know it all already," Carville wrote in a recent message sent to the group's email network. "But it isn't worth squat to have the fastest car at the racetrack if there ain't any gas in the tank -- and that's why the work that the Ready for Hillary PAC is doing is absolutely critical. We need to convert the hunger that's out there for Hillary's candidacy into a real grassroots organization."

Carville's note stressed one of the key reasons the small band of committed Hillary enthusiasts decided to form the group in the first place: Clinton had to cease her political organizing activities during her four years at the State Department.

"We owe it to Hillary to start putting the building blocks of her campaign together now," wrote Carville, who advised her 2008 presidential bid and served as a top strategist to Bill Clinton. "The modern political campaign demands it."

A few days later, Ickes, a Clinton stalwart and expert fundraiser, chimed in on behalf of the upstart group, telling the Sunday Times of London that he had signed on as an adviser.

And last week, Ready for Hillary circulated a news release trumpeting the addition of Tauscher, who served for three years as undersecretary of state in the Clinton administration, as a supporter and strategic adviser to the group.

"I have been up close to her -- as close as you can get," Tauscher said in an interview with ABC News. "She is second to none. I will support her whatever she does, but selfishly, I hope she runs."

Tauscher, who represented a Northern California congressional district for a dozen years before leaving for the State Department, has already put her money where her mouth is. She wrote the group a $2,500 check this month.

Her donation was its first clue it had a potential big-name surrogate in the midst. Tauscher said that within hours of contributing to the Ready for Hillary website, a staff member called to ask if she was, in fact, "the Ellen Tauscher."

"I thought it was pretty funny," she said.

Bringman said the support of Tauscher and many others shows "there's no shortage of folks who want to help Hillary, want her to run for president and want to see her succeed."

As proof of that, he blasted out an email message to supporters over the weekend, noting that Ready for Hillary blew past the 100,000 fan mark on Facebook. He wrote that the group "has been expanding its social media base at a rate of one new person every 14 seconds," helping it amass more than 55,000 Twitter followers too.

Despite Ready for Hillary's thousands of newfound friends, the group currently employs just three paid staffers: Bringman, who works out of his home in Columbus, Ohio, and worked on Clinton's 2008 bid; Matt Felan, the national finance director who is based in Michigan and served as deputy national finance director for Clinton's campaign five years ago; and Nickie Titus, the group's digital director who was director of digital media on Tim Kaine's successful 2012 Virginia Senate campaign.

The group's co-founders, Allida Black and Adam Parkhomenko, have been volunteering their time. Black was a professor at George Washington University for 20 years and is now an independent historian. In an office on the second floor of her brick colonial home in Arlington, Va., Black surrounds herself with books and photos of Clinton and other political leaders. Among her treasured possessions is a pair of orange high-top sneakers signed by Clinton that Black said she wore while traveling the country as a super-volunteer for Hillary during the 2008 campaign.

Black, who hatched the idea for Ready for Hillary with Parkhomenko shortly after the 2012 election said that the goal was simple: to "build the most effective operation that we can to buy Hillary some time."

"We are not a fly-by-night group," Black said. "We know what we're doing."

She and Bringman said that neither of them has received pushback from members of the Clinton's inner circle. "We've gotten nothing but encouragement," Bringman noted, from people close to the former first lady. "I don't think there's anyone who would tell Hillary supporters not to express their support for her."

And organizers say they this is only the beginning. Parkhomenko plans to become the group's executive director next month. The finance operation will grow to include a team of regional fundraisers across the country. The group plans to acquire office space in the Washington, D.C., area sometime in the next few months. And the super PAC will file its first fundraising report this summer.

But supporters and donors such as Tauscher, who was effusive about Ready for Hillary's efforts when reached at her home in California last week, said the PAC's organic feel was what attracted her to it in the first place.

"That's what I loved about it," she said. "There's nothing better than to have a real grassroots movement made up of grassroots people that are much more in tune with people than those inside the Washington bubble."

Other Clintonites, however, continue to view the effort with a dose of skepticism. One former Clinton 2008 campaign staffer said Ready for Hillary appeared to be a good vehicle for the latent enthusiasm that exists for another Clinton White House bid but predicted that it would ultimately have little impact on her political calculus.

But Black, Parkhomenko, Bringman and their small band of Clinton warriors simply can't wait for Hillary to make up her mind.

"She's a leader of my lifetime," Black said, "and I could not sit this out in good conscience."

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