Hillary aides huddle with Democrats

Hillary aides huddle with Democrats
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Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPoll: Majority of Democratic voters happy with their choices among 2020 contenders No presidential candidate can unite the country GOP lawmakers speak out against 'send her back' chants MORE’s political team made an aggressive move Tuesday to court Senate Democrats, making a special trip to Capitol Hill to update lawmakers on the former secretary of State’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Walking into the Senate Democrats’ weekly lunch, John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman, told reporters he was there to “visit friends.”

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Podesta and Amanda Renteria, Clinton’s political director, made just a brief pit stop at the lunch, and Democratic senators insisted any discussion of campaign strategy remained at the 30,000-foot level.

"John and Amanda came to our caucus to introduce us in a very broad, quick fashion to Secretary of State Clinton's campaign for president," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters.

The willingness of Capitol Hill Democrats to meet with the Clinton aides highlighted one of the advantages she has in being the heavy favorite for her party’s nomination. After all, her campaign was less than 10 days old on Tuesday, with the 2016 election still more than 18 months away.

Several senior Democrats — including Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the next Senate Democratic leader — have already thrown their support behind Clinton’s candidacy. All of the Senate’s Democratic women also signed a private letter in 2013 urging her to run. 

At the same time, exactly half of the 46 members of the Democratic caucus joined the Senate either in or after 2009, the year Clinton left the Senate to become secretary of State. 

That meant Tuesday’s meeting could be the start of a longer process that could help Clinton cement relationships with senators. Her team was also scheduled to meet Tuesday night with House Democrats.

“They just wanted people to know who the key people are and how they can be reached. They spent a very brief amount of time talking about how well the rollout had gone,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

She dismissed the notion that Clinton is “schmoozing” Senate Democrats to make up for what many of them view as a lack of personal attention from President Obama.

McCaskill noted Obama’s campaign staff regularly reached out to Democratic senators during his 2012 reelection campaign.

Critics have taken shots at Clinton’s campaign rollout, including the campaign’s “arrowed H” logo. Republicans running for president, including Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), have dismissed Clinton as a candidate of the past, and a new book has raised questions about foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation.

But Democrats said Tuesday that Podesta and Renteria, a former top aide to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), gave them a positive report on the emerging 2016 team.

“I didn’t learn much except that they are organizing and reaching out,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). “I don’t think it was more than four minutes.”

The Clinton team told Democrats that the candidate herself would be seeking them out at some point. “They didn’t give us a date, but, sure. Absolutely,” said Stabenow.

Podesta, who left the Obama White House earlier this year, has also started meeting privately with Democrats on Capitol Hill, including with Sen. Barbara Mikulski (Md.), who told reporters they had “talked about how we’re ready for Hillary.”

“I've been ready for Hillary for a long time, and we were plotting our strategy with how to ensure her victory," Mikulski said. "We talked about strategy; we talked about organizing; we talked about money, organization and message.”

Senators will serve as superdelegates at the Democratic presidential nominating convention in Philadelphia next year. And even though the Democratic primary process is expected to be far less suspenseful than the Clinton-Obama battles of 2008, senators could help her raise money and mobilize volunteers in the run-up to the general election.

Senate Democrats have their own motivation for making sure they’re in sync with Clinton’s campaign. Democrats would benefit from an energized electorate, as they seek to regain control of the Senate in 2016. Plus, they would need to win four seats for Senate control, not five, if Clinton captured the White House.

While Clinton is expected to get only a token challenge for the nomination, liberal groups have for months tried to draft Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) into the race — or, at the very least, get Clinton to take some cues from Warren as she seeks the White House. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with the Democrats, has also said he’s considering his own bid for the Democratic nomination.

Despite all that, Mikulski said Tuesday’s visit wasn’t awkward.

“It’s America,” Mikulski said. “There’s a lot of presidential candidates, either for this term or next term.”

“We could go through 2050,” she added

— Jordain Carney and Jonathan Easley contributed.

— This story was first posted at 1:46 p.m. and has been updated.