The cam­paign-in-wait­ing

Clin­ton’s team is pre­par­ing be­hind the scenes, largely out of a closet

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Michael A. Me­moli michael.me­moli@la­times.com Twit­ter: @mike­mem­oli

WASH­ING­TON — The road that Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton hopes to take to the Oval Of­fice be­gins in a mid­town Man­hat­tan sup­ply closet.

When fully op­er­a­tional, her cam­paign for pres­i­dent will oc­cupy two floors of of­fice space in a Brook­lyn high-rise. But for now, the small band of Demo­cratic op­er­a­tives that will make up her se­nior cam­paign team are con­duct­ing a lot of busi­ness in a cramped room sur­rounded by copy pa­per and clean­ing sup­plies.

That a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign-in-wait­ing is op­er­at­ing in such mea­ger con­di­tions is hardly un­usual, given the tac­ti­cal and legal re­stric­tions that come be­fore an of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment. The wind-up to a pres­i­den­tial launch re­quires dis­cre­tion and sac­ri­fice among early staff who of­ten are un­paid vol­un­teers — as are some mem­bers of Clin­ton’s team.

“That pe­riod of time be­tween the de­ci­sion to run and the mo­ment you stand up an ac­tual op­er­a­tion is awk­ward, at best,” said Bill Bur­ton, one of the first staffers hired for then-Sen. Barack Obama’s 2008 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

“There are cer­tain things that have to get done in or­der to make the an­nounce­ment work that don’t all fit in to a per­fect time frame. You don’t have a fairy god­mother who comes and says, ‘Here’s a lease for your cam­paign of­fice and an agree­ment on your phone and In­ter­net ser­vice and a staff that’s ready to go.’ ”

In the case of Clin­ton’s team, though, the ad hoc cir­cum­stances are all the more strik­ing given that as a for­mer sec­re­tary of State, U.S. se­na­tor, pres­i­den­tial can­di­date and first lady, she is the over­whelm­ing fron­trun­ner for the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion for pres­i­dent, and the group in­cludes some of the top po­lit­i­cal tal­ent in her party.

For now, Clin­ton’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions team is map­ping out the early stages of her heav­ily scru­ti­nized re­turn to pol­i­tics in the close quar­ters of a shared 7-by-10 of­fice in the suite that has served as her base of op­er­a­tions since she left the State Depart­ment in early 2013.

Aides say it’s not un­com­mon to find Robby Mook, the cam­paign manager, hold­ing con­fer­ence calls in the pri­vacy of the of­fice’s sup­ply closet.

Among the group is Jen Palmieri, un­til re­cently the White House direc­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions. She traded in an of­fice in the West Wing for a chance, per­haps, to re­turn there. Brian Fal­lon, ex­pected to be the cam­paign’s lead public spokesman, left his perch in the same ca­pac­ity at the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

“Any­one who thinks this is glam­orous at the start must have walked into the wrong of­fice,” said one fu­ture Clin­ton cam­paign staffer, who would not be named talk­ing about the as-yet unan­nounced cam­paign.

The staff con­nects with one an­other through a hodge­podge of per­sonal ac­counts and Google mes­sage groups. Get­ting any real work done of­ten re­quires meet­ings in nearby cof­fee shops or restau­rants.

Clin­ton doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily have to field a team at this junc­ture that would prove to prospec­tive donors her se­ri­ous­ness about run­ning, the way a less-es­tab­lished can­di­date or one fac­ing a more com­pet­i­tive field might.

Partly be­cause of that, her team made a key early choice not to form an ex­ploratory com­mit­tee, which trig­gers cer­tain legal re­quire­ments.

Clin­ton will have to re­port any ma­jor ex­pen­di­tures in­curred dur­ing this in­for­mal “testing the wa­ters” phase once she makes her can­di­dacy of­fi­cial.

But skip­ping an ex­ploratory com­mit­tee frees her to co­or­di­nate with po­lit­i­cal en­ti­ties that might sup­port her, said Bob Bier­sack, a for­mer long­time Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion of­fi­cial now with the Cen­ter for Re­spon­sive Pol­i­tics.

“The im­per­a­tive of fundrais­ing is less im­por­tant for her than it would be for some­one who hadn’t been there and done that,” he said. “She can wait. It’ll come.”

The de­ci­sion to forgo the in­terim panel to ex­plore a pres­i­den­tial run was also re­jected in part, aides said, be­cause they wanted to drop the pre­tense that she would an­nounce she was ex­plor­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of a cam­paign, then make a sec­ond an­nounce­ment that she was in­deed run­ning.

The slowly grow­ing staff that is spread­ing into the early pri­mary states is be­ing told to pre­pare for an of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment at any time in the next two weeks. It will likely come first on so­cial me­dia, fol­lowed by a live dec­la­ra­tion.

Be­yond that, the cam­paign’s in­ner cir­cle has given out no de­tails.

One Clin­ton aide, who re­quested anonymity to share de­tails of the widely ex­pected cam­paign, likened it to try­ing to build an air­plane as it takes off.

In Fe­bru­ary and March, a few of the first cam­paign team mem­bers be­gan con­tact­ing prospec­tive Demo­cratic tal­ent to ex­pand the cam­paign team, set­ting up one-on-one phone calls to talk about an un­spec­i­fied “op­por­tu­nity,” with­out re­veal­ing what was in­volved.

Not all se­nior aides have moved to New York, so a lot of busi­ness is also con­ducted on Am­trak’s Wash­ing­ton-to-New York route.

Even in­ter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tions have proven com­pli­cated with­out an email sys­tem in place.

Bur­ton re­calls sim­i­lar ar­range­ments in the early days of Obama’s first pres­i­den­tial run.

A YouTube video the cam­paign shot to pre­view his of­fi­cial pres­i­den­tial an­nounce­ment was filmed in Obama’s own Capitol Hill home, and he re­called notic­ing af­ter the fact that some per­sonal laun­dry — an Iowa State Cy­clones T-shirt — can be spot­ted rest­ing on a ra­di­a­tor in the back­ground.

“You still have to do all the work to build up,” he said. “It hap­pens at cof­fee shops, in living rooms — and at the mercy of free Wi-Fi in ho­tel lob­bies.”

An­drew Harnik As­so­ci­ated Press

EMILY PERL­STEIN packs up an or­der at the Ready for Hil­lary store in Ar­ling­ton, Va. The “su­per PAC” will wind down when Clin­ton of­fi­cially starts run­ning.

Spencer Platt Getty Images

THIS BROOK­LYN build­ing will re­port­edly house Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton’s cam­paign head­quar­ters.

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