Aug. 8, 2013 -- Friday morning, as Washington slumbers through recess and public attention even in Iowa is far from presidential politics, a group of Democratic activists and office-holders will gather in Des Moines to discuss a topic very much on their minds – and now on their agenda: "Madam President."
Organizers aren't naming this hypothetical president. But they don't have to, of course.
Meet the shadow campaign for Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Just beneath the surface, and without evidence of direct involvement by the Clintons themselves, a Clinton machine is whirring to life. A series of self-started, independent ventures are adding up to a sweeping effort to unite all levels of the Democratic establishment behind a candidacy that backers hope and trust they'll have a chance to support.
"We want to make sure we're ready for her if she decides to run," said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY's List, which is running the "Madam President" event in Iowa and has similar events planned for New Hampshire and Nevada in the months to come. "We want to be prepared to do all we can to break through that glass ceiling."
Several people close to the Clinton camp insist there is no puppet-master coordinating political efforts for the former secretary of state. That means that while some of what's being done is for Clinton's benefit, it's less clear that it's being done on her behalf.
But a series of prominent Democrats aligned with the Clintons – Harold Ickes, James Carville, Ann Lewis, Cheryl Mills, and Craig Smith among them – are acting as facilitators, channeling friends and allies toward entities that are working for a possible candidacy, according to numerous Democrats in and around the Clinton orbit.
Clinton herself is doing little publicly or privately to tip her hand about 2016. Associates say she's mostly focused on speaking engagements and writing a memoir that will publish next year. Little news emanates from a tiny "transition office" she set up in Washington to ease her out of the State Department and on to new ventures; that office declined to comment on this topic.
Yet Clinton is not discouraging efforts to put outside campaign pieces in place early, according to those working on behalf of her possible candidacy. Her occasional public comments on the topic reinforce the notion that she's comfortable with what's going on.
"Let me say this, hypothetically speaking, I really do hope that we have a woman president in my lifetime," Clinton said at a speaking engagement in Toronto in June.
The machinations have had the effect of essentially freezing out the rest of the 2016 Democratic field. Possible Republican candidates are popping up in Iowa and New Hampshire, but Democrats are largely avoiding the early-voting states for now.
Vice President Joe Biden and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley have both expressed interest in 2016. But neither is putting into place – or having put into place on his behalf – anything approaching the networks and infrastructure that are gelling for Clinton. Any such efforts would be implicitly discouraged by what's going on around Clinton, since she's viewed as the prohibitive frontrunner.
The organizations supporting Clinton in this pre-campaign period – EMILY's List, the already-established American Bridge PAC, and the newcomer Ready for Hillary PAC, just for starters – are in part a reflection of the enormity of the Clinton and ex-Clinton operations, plus the fact that some former Obama campaign operatives are eager to work on another winning campaign.