It's the biggest gay nightclub in one of D.C.'s coolest hoods. Town, on U Street, held a Saturday night-sized crowd, but it was Wednesday and barely after 8 p.m. "I'm ready," shouted a partygoer, as others simply woo-ed. Then the music turned off and a political advertisement played on the televisions above the bar. Lots of screams and applause proved that this group was, in fact, Ready for Hillary.
In the 2008 cycle, it was Barack Obama who cornered the market on cool. He was the new guy, the basketball player, Oprah's BFF. He was the candidate who wanted you involved, even if you could only give him $2. The 2008 version of Clinton was a '90s holdover, a former first lady and a U.S. senator, not the meme-making, beer-drinking, tough-as-nails secretary of state.
Now, two years before anyone will caucus or pull a lever for the next president, the Hillary-is-hip movement is already making major money. The political action committee, Ready for Hillary, has raised $4 million in 12 months, without the candidate even saying she's running. (Clinton can't say much anyway because candidates can't coordinate with PACs.) The strategy they've used, according to staffers, is to tap the grass roots and have those supporters come up with concepts. And the first super successful idea was a $20.16 price tag for most of the PAC's fundraisers.
"So the first $20.16 event was our San Francisco event," explained Ready for Hillary's Neisha Blandin, who's in charge of grass-roots fundraising. "And basically it just started as an event where folks wanted to do something in their area that catered to more grass roots, low dollar type of individuals and it has grown a lot since then."
From San Francisco the cheap price tag has been used to hold two fundraisers in D.C., including the one at Town. There's a New York City fundraiser and one planned in Philadelphia featuring the mouthy ex-Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. "So it was really an organic way of our supporters wanting to do something," explained Jessica Grounds, who's in charge of women's initiatives. "And we sort of took that idea."
Now, of the more than 35,000 contributions made to the Ready for Hillary PAC, 18,000 – that's more than half – have been for exactly $20.16. Additionally, 98 percent of contributions have been for less than $100, indicating that Ready for Hillary is mainly in the small dollar donation business.
The group is also operating on a two-birds, one-stone type mission. Taking another cue from Team Obama, the Ready for Hillary folks are amassing a potent list of supporters.
"We know from 2008 that it requires a grass-roots network to be really successful, clearly that's what President Obama's campaign taught us and we know the game has changed for presidential politics," Grounds explained. "So the whole point of Ready for Hillary is to start early and activate this massive network of supporters, so if she does decide to run we can immediately ask our supporters of Ready for Hillary to be active in her campaign."
At Ready for Hillary's office space in Rosslyn, Va., which overlooks the Potomac River, new blue paint is going up on the walls. There are blown-up photos of early Ready for Hillary events in the hallways and an entire room filled with Ready for Hillary merchandise – t-shirts, onesies, buttons. "We had flutes, like champagne flutes, in December and they sold out right away," Grounds said, explaining that they cater their wares to – you guessed it – the grass roots. "And we're always ... interested in ideas of what people want, we're open to thoughts on what people would wear," Grounds added.
The same goes for the party venues. The Town fundraiser came about because pro-Clinton members of the local LGBT community approached Ready for Hillary and suggested that it was the place to fill. The PAC has people in different cities scoping out the best bars and clubs for future Ready for Hillary dates. And they have two full-size cardboard cutouts of Hillary (also used to spook people around the office) that they bring along for photo booth fun. "That's the thing about these events, it's a political event, but it's also social and it's fun –go take a photo with cardboard Hillary," explained Lisa Changadveja, Ready for Hillary's LGBT Americans Director. "I feel like sometimes folks have a really kind of dreary opinion of fundraisers and things like that, so I think it kind of lightens it up a bit," Blandin said of their cardboard almost-candidate.