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No Candidate, No Problem: 2016 Shadow Campaign

Bring up Hillary Clinton, and you might feel as if you went to sleep one night, only to wake up two years later, in the thick of the 2016 presidential election.  Already, you can sign up to receive free “Ready for Hillary” bumper stickers.  The question is, while her supporters are out bedecking their cars, is Hillary Clinton as “Ready for Hillary” as they are?  Right now, the answer to that question seems to matter surprisingly little.

The former Secretary of State has been painstakingly cagey about announcing whether or not she will be running in 2016, a fact that hasn’t stopped the media from engaging in rampant speculation.  In an interview with New York Magazine last week (her first since resigning as Secretary of State), she was asked the inevitable question.  She responded by simply stating that she was “not in any hurry” to decide whether or not to run – but then, tantalizingly, adding that it was a decision “that had to be made soon.”

Hillary might say she’s not in a hurry – but if that’s true, then she’s the only one.  While former Secretary Clinton lurks comfortably on the sidelines, a full-fledged campaign has begun – and the fact that it doesn’t have a candidate is just a trifling detail.

Meet “Madam President,” the nameless, faceless head of EMILY’s List’s “Madam President” campaign. EMILY’s List, a DC based political group that campaigns to elect pro-choice, Democratic women, unveiled their campaign for the enigmatic “Madam President” on May 2of this year – more than three years before the election will be held. On their website, little specific mention of Hillary Clinton is made – but there’s a photo of a woman being sworn into office, and the back of her head looks awfully familiar.

The “Madam President” campaign might say that “it’s not just Hillary” they’re supporting, but they’re not fooling anyone. On August 2, the campaign kicked off with its first event, a town hall meeting in Iowa. Since “Madam President” obviously wasn’t available, Senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri showed up in her stead, to speak of “that moment in 2017 when we can say ‘Madam President’ to Hillary Rodham Clinton.” Clinton may not be running yet, but who needs to when you have such enthusiastic doppelgangers to run in your place?

While a campaign without a candidate may seem strange, in reality it could turn out to be a brilliant political tactic. For EMILY’s List, it’s a way to jumpstart the quest for their white whale – America’s first female president.  For Clinton, it’s emblematic of what may just be a master plan.

At the start of the 2008 Election, Hillary Clinton stepped into the race as the frontrunner.  Former First Lady, former Senator, presumptive Democratic nominee.  As we all know, one bitter and embattled primary later, she stepped down in favor of then Senator Barack Obama.  One contributing factor to Senator Clinton’s defeat was the target painted on the back of every frontrunner – as the presumptive nominee, you have more time to accumulate baggage, and more the incentive for your opponents to use it against you.  Senator Clinton, born from the ashes of the Bill Clinton presidency, had more baggage to contend with than most.

In a nation tired of two wars and a Game of Thrones-like legacy of dueling dynasties, Barack Obama stepped into the picture. While the RNC had been preparing to battle Hillary Clinton for years, the soon-to-be President Obama was the fresh face that gave America what she was looking for – hope, and a White House without a Clinton or a Bush at the helm.

Today, Clinton has the chance to hide behind the “Madam President” façade as she sneaks into offense.  Given the vitriol that many have felt for her and her husband over the years – a sentiment somewhat tempered by her successful tenure as Secretary of State – Clinton is right not to want to step into the ring too early.  An omen of the attacks to come can be seen in the recent reaction – or over reaction – to a Hillary Clinton miniseries that NBC is considering producing to air in time for the 2016 election.  Its production has become wildly controversial, with the RNC threatening to boycott NBC news for the 2016 debates if the miniseries comes to fruition.  Meanwhile, CNN is upset as well – its production would compete with the documentary they themselves want to produce.  The media is salivating for a Clinton feeding frenzy, and she is smart not to be jumping into the fray too soon.

When Hillary Clinton lost in 2008, she lost to a man who was in many ways a political symbol.  Now, with the “Madam President” campaign, she has the chance to inject a little of the candidate Obama’s lofty idealism into her second shot at the White House – while postponing her attackers for as long as possible.  As the 2016 elections inch ever closer, many Americans may start to feel nostalgia for 2008 and the campaign for “Hope” and “Change.”  With two terms of Obama to buffer the sense of a Clinton dynasty, and with Obama fatigue from a nation that didn’t get as much “Change” as it had hoped, the time may be ripe for Hillary to present herself as the future and not the past.  In a manner reminiscent of the YouTube sensation, “Kid President,” EMILY’s List has made a video in which young girls stand at a podium, giggling and giving speeches as the first female President.  In some ways, “Madam President” is more one of those little girls than she is Hillary Clinton, however much she’s campaigning for her.  In essence, she’s an idea – the idea of making history.

Although operating without assurances, Clinton supporters are right to waste no time in laying the groundwork for her campaign. It’s a campaign that may never come, but if she does decide to run for President, she’ll be infinitely better prepared than last time: Hillary Clinton, former First Lady, US Senator, Secretary of State, has the experience; “Madam President” has the inspiration. Put them together, and you have a formidable combination.

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About the author
Nora Updegrove
Nora Updegrove
Nora Updegrove studied government and international relations at Georgetown University and works as a writer and researcher. Other experience includes work on Capitol Hill, a European advocacy group, and marketing for international non-profits. Outside of work, she loves politics, mythology and her dog.

4 Comments

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