STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Some people may feel they need painkillers when they hear the 2016 presidential campaign is already underway, but it's true, and it's understandable; it takes years to build the infrastructure and support for a campaign in a country this big. Potential candidates in both parties have been visiting Iowa and courting donors. And an unprecedented organization is being built for one Democratic candidate, though Hillary Clinton has yet to say she is running.
Here's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: In a high rise office in Rosslyn, Virginia, Adam Parkhomenko is selling campaign paraphernalia for a campaign that may or may not happen.
ADAM PARKHOMENKO: Typical things you'd see on a campaign: bumper stickers, magnets, and then we have everything from T-shirts, we have baby onesies that we're almost out of now.
LIASSON: They may want to order more of those onesies before the Clinton grandchild arrives. Parkhomenko runs a group called Ready for Hillary. It's more than a Hillary fan club: It's a superPAC, a list-building superPAC.
PARKHOMENKO: Ready for Hillary is focused on the grass-roots piece of organizing, and making sure that all throughout the country, if she does this, that there's an army of grassroots supporters behind her from day one that are ready to go.
LIASSON: This kind of bottom-up grass-roots organizing was not a strong suit for Hillary's 2008 campaign. But the shadow campaign developing in advance of a possible 2016 sequel is focusing on the ground level. Ready for Hillary raises small donations by selling baby onesies and holding small-dollar fundraisers.
Last week in Boston, around 100 young professionals paid $20.16 - 2016, get it? - to attend a Ready for Hillary event. Far more important than the minimal money raised was the data collected, tools for future targeting and organizing.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: If I could have you sign in right here with your first and last name and then check here if you're able to volunteer in the future.
HAROLD ICKES: Ready for Hilary started a year ago almost to the day, has raised over $4 million, mostly small donors, and has over 2 million names of people who have signed up that want to stay in touch. And we have their email addresses and their Twitter handles and the hashtags and all that goes along with it. It's quite amazing.
LIASSON: That's Harold Ickes, an old Clinton consigliore. These days, he's is an advisor to Ready for Hillary, an important piece of the campaign-in-waiting, but only one piece. In addition, says Ickes...
ICKES: There is Priorities USA, which is a holdover from 2012. I'm on the board and the president of it. But that is a big-money vehicle that, if she runs, will presumably raise very large amounts of money that will be independent spending.
LIASSON: In addition to Ready for Hillary and Priorities, both superPACs, there's a group called Correct the Record, which is doing research and rapid response to support and defend Clinton in the media. All these groups demonstrate how smoothly the Obama and Clinton operations have been braided together.
Jim Messina, the 2012 Obama campaign manager, is now the co-chairman of Priorities. Mitch Stewart and Jeremy Bird, who ran Obama's vaunted field operation, are advising Ready for Hillary. Veteran Clinton pollster Geoff Garin says all of this activity, independent of Hillary herself, is a reflection of how campaigns have changed.
GEOFF GARIN: There are a lot of entities that are not the campaign proper that have a huge influence on the outcomes of elections. We have seen that infrastructure be deployed in 2012. Now that infrastructure is really getting ready to support Hillary Clinton if she decides to run.
LIASSON: It's also a sign of how unified and energized the Democratic Party is behind one candidate, years before the 2016 campaign actually begins. And that's unprecedented for anyone other than a sitting president or vice president. And at least organizationally, it means Hillary Clinton will be a step ahead of whoever becomes the Republican nominee, says Sara Taylor Fagan, former political director for President George W. Bush.
SARA TAYLOR FAGAN: It is a great challenge for Republicans. We don't have it in place and we are not going to have it in place until it's very clear who the nominee is. Those who announce will likely see their supporters put something together on their behalf, something outside, but it won't be as advanced or as well-funded as Hillary Clinton's will have been.
LIASSON: And they'll need to be very well-funded. A billion dollars is now considered the minimum cost of a winning presidential campaign. Of course none of the activity swirling around Hillary Clinton's potential candidacy tells whether she'll be successful. She is the prohibitive frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, but she would be a non-incumbent trying to succeed a two-term president of her own party.
That's something that's happened only once since the 1920s. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.