Clinton allies look to build tech advantage ahead of ’16

Hillary Clinton’s allies are building a technological advantage for her prospective presidential campaign, meant to scare Democrats thinking about challenging her in a primary and intimidate Republicans who would oppose her in the general election.

It is an effort that allies — including former digital gurus to President Obama’s presidential campaigns — say will far exceed the current president’s campaign efforts, which broke new ground and relied heavily on digital platforms to fundraise as well as organize and mobilize supporters.

{mosads}The pro-Clinton super-PAC Ready for Hillary, for example, is on its way to targeting 3 million identified Clinton supporters who could be relied on to provide small-dollar contributions and come to the polls.

The political action committee, which has received money from more than 100,000 donors, is using a so-called “ladder of engagement” that begins with a “please like our Facebook page” request and ends with an email asking the visitor to donate or volunteer for the campaign.

Of the $4 million the super-PAC raised in 2013, $1.2 million was invested in digital advertising, the group’s largest expenditure, officials say.

The PAC is also using the database to help Democrats in tight races around the country. That includes in Iowa, where it is helping Rep. Bruce Braley’s struggling Senate campaign — and where it could benefit Clinton in the 2016 caucuses. The super-PAC used the database to send emails to supporters in the state, asking them to join Clinton in supporting Braley by chipping in $5.

“We can’t sit on the sidelines — we need to work as hard in 2014 as would if Hillary were on the ballot,” one email to Iowa supporters says.

Within the next few days, the group will launch a “national call tool” that will allow supporters to make calls to voters in crucial 2014 states, a source familiar with the effort told The Hill.

Should she decide to run early next year, Clinton would simply have to buy or rent the database to tap into the wealth of data the super-PAC has collected.

Republicans acknowledge Team Clinton is “leaps and bounds” ahead of where it needs to be, as one put it.

Tim Miller, the executive director of America Rising, the Republican super-PAC that has been targeting Clinton, said Republicans “need to realize this is an area where Clinton’s team is investing early, and where they’re going to invest, and we need to level the playing field.”

Tony Fratto, who served as deputy press secretary to former President George W. Bush, also acknowledged that the Clinton operation has a running start.

“It’s true that, in the digital space, having a head start can help,” Fratto said. “I don’t think there’s any question about it. … No one else has an organization to speak of, and that could be a huge advantage for her.”

To be sure, the digital and tech outreach is far better than the lackluster tech operation Clinton had in 2008, which the Obama campaign pummeled at the time. 

Team Obama revolutionized modern campaigning, building a sophisticated and comprehensive database and using technology as both a fundraising and organizing tool to mobilize potential voters.

“[The online effort] was much more aggressive because it was something they started earlier,” said Kevin Thurman, who served as Clinton’s deputy Internet director in 2008. “They were taking a large amount of data and making it more useful. We had to figure that stuff out.”

Thurman also added that Obama’s 2008 supporter base, made up of many younger voters, gravitated toward that medium because they were looking for a different kind of candidate.

In 2016, if Clinton chooses to run, she’ll be better positioned technologically, according to allies.

For example, when Ready for Hillary relaunched its website in March, it had help from 270 Strategies, a firm that employs a number of the players who executed Obama’s digital strategy.

Betsy Hoover, a partner at 270 who served as director of digital organizing for the 2012 Obama campaign, said the response rate to the Ready for Hillary site has been “huge,” and she said there’s a “definite infrastructure in place that will be helpful to the Clinton campaign.”

And while Hoover stopped shy of saying whether it would keep other Democrats out of a presidential primary, Thurman, who is not currently involved in any Clinton operation, said the former secretary of State is well ahead of other potential competitors; Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), he said, would come closest to having an online footprint.

Sources at Ready for Hillary say the group’s main goal in starting the digital venture before the campaign would be for Clinton to take over the data it has gathered when she announces a bid for the presidency.

Clinton, sources close to her say, learned her lesson on the digital front after her 2008 loss and became personally invested in trying to incorporate it more during her tenure at the State Department and beyond. In the immediate aftermath of her campaign, she started asking aides what she could have done better technology-wise in various states during the election. And when she arrived at Foggy Bottom, she invested resources to applying it around the world in the spirit of public diplomacy.

One longtime Clinton aide summed up her embrace this way: “It’s gone from being relegated to the basement to the corner office. … Once it was all very second guess, and now everyone has realized it’s absolutely central.”

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