The Iowa caucuses, which have long been the start of the presidential-nomination process, are more than 700 days away, but it felt like the height of the 2016 campaign at a gay dance club in D.C. Wednesday night.
More than 300 people, paying $20.16 a ticket, crammed into Town Danceboutique to rally for a candidate who hasn't even declared her candidacy yet.
"Out & Ready for Hillary" marked the first LGBT-specific fundraiser organized by the Ready for Hillary super PAC, which was formed in January 2013 with the express purpose of urging Hillary Clinton to run for president in 2016. And while Clinton has demurred on her plans for 2016 since leaving her post as secretary of state a year ago, that hasn't stopped the super PAC from garnering more than 1.6 million Facebook likes and 35,000 individual donors. The average donation stands at $82, with maximum contributions capped at $25,000.
The enthusiasm for just the possibility that Clinton could make another run for the White House has been the subject of numerous polls and endless speculation about which Republican, if any, could defeat the former first lady and New York senator. But with the potential for a crowded Democratic field in 2016, Wednesday's event appeared to be a confirmation that the LGBT community still has Hillary Clinton's back.
"Right now in this room we’re experiencing democracy," Michelle Clunie, a star of the early 2000s Showtime series Queer as Folk, told the predominately male audience Wednesday night. "Change happens from the ground up. This is a long fight. We have a long way to go until 2016. Hillary hasn't thrown her hat in the ring, but we have to show up for her."
Among those in attendance last night were Proposition 8 plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, who relocated this week from California to D.C. Noting their experience in taking California's 2008 same-sex marriage ban all the way to the Supreme Court last year, Perry said it's never too early to organize.
"One of the things that's been so inspirational to us in the Prop. 8 fight is how unified the community is around high-priority issues, and the presidency is a very high-priority issue," Perry told Metro Weekly. "It takes a long time to win and I think it's important for the community to stick together and keep speaking in a unified voice around its priorities. We're a force to be reckoned with as a community. Even though she hasn't declared, there's no downside to being organized and clear about what you want a candidate to be."
Equipped with a photo booth that included a cardboard cutout of Clinton, Wednesday's LGBT fundraiser, proposed by D.C. activist Lane Hudson, marked the first of many. Ready for Hillary staffers say 2014 will see an increase in grassroots organizing by the super PAC. According to Lisa Changadveja, who was named Ready for Hillary's LGBT Americans director in September, the group will be at more than 30 Pride festivals during the next year.
"We're going to be where the LGBT community is. Our organization knows the LGBT community is a very important community to organize," Changadveja told Metro Weekly, noting Ready for Hillary's first five hires are focused on black, young, Latino, LGBT and women voters. "We know it's important to organize these constituents early because that's how Obama did it in 2008 and 2012 — he organized from the ground up.”
Ready for Hillary hauled in over $4 million in its first year alone in an attempt to build a "grassroots army that can be activated the moment Hillary makes a decision," according to Ready for Hillary Executive Director Adam Parkhomenko.
While supporters wait with bated breath for Clinton to make a decision about her candidacy, Ready for Hillary has focused its efforts on the races before Nov. 8, 2016.
"2016 seems far away to a lot of people," Changadveja said. "Over this next year we know the 2014 elections are going to be very important for setting the stage for 2016. So any candidate Hillary has endorsed, trying to help them out as much as possible." Ready for Hillary campaigned for Terry McAuliffe in his bid for governor of Virginia and Bill de Blasio for his bid for mayor of New York City. Both men were backed by Bill and Hillary Clinton and both won their respective elections.
Clinton has long faced speculation over a run for the White House in 2016, as have Vice President Joe Biden, who many believe pushed President Obama's hand on marriage equality after declaring his support for same-sex marriage on national television, and Govs. Martin O'Malley (Md.) and Andrew Cuomo (N.Y.), who both signed same-sex marriage legislation. Despite the likelihood that every Democratic candidate for president in 2016 will be a friend of the LGBT community, Clinton supporters say her record — as the first first lady to march in a Pride parade and as the secretary of state who made LGBT equality a priority of U.S. diplomacy — will make her the community's favorite.
"Look around," Hudson said simply, motioning toward the packed dance club, when asked if other Democratic candidates might cause LGBT support to fracture during the primary process.
Clinton has maintained the close ties she has forged over the decades, choosing to announce her support for marriage equality in a 5-minute video released by the Human Rights Campaign after she left the Obama administration. For Clinton supporters, those ties won't soon be forgotten.
"She has a long history with the LGBT community," said Changadveja. "When and if she decides to run, she's going to know the LGBT community and leaders are right there behind her."
[Photo 1: Hillary Clinton. Credit: U.S. State Department. Photo 2: Ready for Hillary photo booth. Credit: Justin Snow/Metro Weekly.]