They shrug off questions about Hillary Rodham Clinton’s email habits. They roll with the attacks on her family’s foundation, the big checks from foreign governments, the torpid response of her not-yet-campaign.
They have little choice: As Mrs. Clinton prepares to begin her second presidential campaign amid a froth of criticism and outrage, Democrats are not just Ready for Hillary — as supporters named one pro-Clinton “super PAC” — they are desperate for her.
Congressional Democrats are counting on a strong Clinton campaign to help lift them back into the majority. Party leaders at all levels want her fund-raising help and demographic appeal. And from the top of the party to its grass roots, Mrs. Clinton’s pseudo-incumbency is papering over significant disadvantages: a weak bench, a long-term House minority and a white middle class defecting to the Republican Party faster than the Democrats’ hoped-for demographic future is expected to arrive.
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Hillary Rodham Clinton at a news conference on Tuesday about her use of personal email while she was secretary of state.
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Hillary Rodham Clinton, center, in 2012. She says that she did not email classified material while secretary of state.
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Hillary Clinton at the news conference on Tuesday where she took questions about her email.
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A sign in Indianola, Iowa, in September. The Iowa caucuses probably won’t be a problem for Hillary Clinton if she runs; the general election would.
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Possible contenders: Al Gore, Kirsten Gillibrand, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, John Kerry, Martin O’Malley, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Mark Warner.
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Mrs. Clinton, many Democrats say, is simply too big to fail.
“There is no one else — she’s the whole plan,” said Sarah Kovner, a leading Democratic donor and fund-raiser in New York. “She is by far the most experienced and qualified person we could possibly nominate. Not even on the horizon but on the far horizon.”
Her party’s urgent need for her to succeed explains, in part, how Democrats have responded to revelations that Mrs. Clinton used a private email address for all of her government correspondence as secretary of state and skirted public and congressional records requests. But it also suggests the Democrats’ peril: Should Mrs. Clinton falter, the party has no easy way to replace her.
“Anytime you have all your eggs in one basket, it is a concern,” said Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware, acknowledging the risk Democrats were running by deferring to Mrs. Clinton. “Although if you’re going to have them all in one, this basket is a good place to be.”
For two years, Mrs. Clinton has been the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination, keeping the party’s strongest alternatives on the sidelines and depriving those who remain of potential donors and staff. Senior Democrats have built a multimillion-dollar political infrastructure to pave the way for her candidacy, and while Republicans openly fretted about the need for a candidate of their own who could match her, Democrats gently tamped down concerns that the party was too heavily invested in a single flag bearer. For House Democrats, Mrs. Clinton’s impending candidacy has figured centrally in pitches to donors, who are skeptical of their chances to win the chamber back.
“There are between 60 and 75 truly competitive districts in the House,” said Representative Steve Israel of New York, who led the House Democrats’ campaign efforts last year and has told donors that Mrs. Clinton will need a Democratic Congress to work with. “Hillary Clinton is the only Democrat I know who can go into every single one of those districts and do well — with the possible exception of her husband.”
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Perhaps more significantly, Mrs. Clinton’s long-looming candidacy has acted as a powerful unifying force in the Democratic Party.
Her broad appeal among Democratic voters has prevented liberal complaints against the party’s Wall Street faction from mushrooming into an electoral insurgency. Her star power — and the potential for a ceiling-breaking White House victory — has helped obscure a vexing reality for the post-Obama Democratic Party: As much as it advertises itself as the party of a rising generation, the Democrats’ farm team is severely understaffed, and many of its leading lights are eligible for Social Security.
Jerry Brown, perhaps the most successful big-state Democratic governor in the country, is 76. (He ran for president two decades ago — as the anti-Clinton candidate.) The top four congressional Democrats are all 70 or older. And as Democrats look for new recruits to run in 2016, there are fewer up-and-comers, and more prospects older than 60 looking to make up for losses in previous elections, including Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Ted Strickland of Ohio, who are all eying Senate seats.
“When people bring up the presidential race to me, they bring up Secretary Clinton,” said Jason Kander, 33, Missouri’s secretary of state and a Democrat running for the Senate. “I have just not had many conversations where people talk about different candidates.”
Down the ticket, the party’s problems are worse. The two midterm elections since President Obama’s 2008 victory have wiped out an entire generation of Democratic state officeholders, costing the Democrats more than 900 state legislative seats and 11 governorships, according to an internal Democratic National Committee assessment released last month.
Republicans have been more aggressive in steering donors to less glamorous state races, electing governors and legislative majorities whose sweeping rollback of union rights has further damaged Democrats in states in which they are already reeling.
“The other side has killed us at that stuff,” said Steve Rosenthal, a Democratic strategist.
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Eleanor Ruby Moon
6 hours ago
Pray tell what did Clinton actually accomplish as Secretary of State apart from being heard making a lot of speeches? She travelled around…
6 hours ago
Am I the only Democrat who is not down for Hilary? Bill was an exceptional president, philandering aside. Hilary has not had the same…
8 hours ago
I am surprised the article did not mention the possibility of Vice President Joe Biden seeking the nomination. I recognize that he is 72…
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The shift has provided Republicans an advantage in redistricting and fund-raising: In 10 top presidential swing states, according to data collected by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Republican state parties raised $350 million over the last four years, compared with $215 million for Democratic state parties.
“Obviously, Florida’s struggled at the state level for Democrats,” said Mark S. Pafford, the Democratic leader in the state’s House of Representatives, where Democrats now hold just over a third of the seats. His hope, Mr. Pafford said, is that a candidate of Mrs. Clinton’s stature “reinvigorates the base to go out and find motivation in Democratic leadership.”
Mrs. Clinton’s undisputed fund-raising prowess has also overshadowed financial problems for the national Democratic Party and liberal groups supporting it.
The Democratic National Committee, largely neglected by Mr. Obama, has steadily raised less money than its Republican counterpart over the last two years. The party chairwoman, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, is unpopular in the White House and locked in a vicious feud with one of the party’s big donors. And while conservative outside groups are on track to raise more than $1 billion during the 2016 cycle, the main Democratic “super PAC,” Priorities USA Action, is still struggling to secure more than a handful of million-dollar commitments from big donors.
Mrs. Clinton, most Democrats believe, is the solution. No other candidate combines her ties to big donors with her appeal to small ones. Liberal activists are hostile to the party’s second-best big-dollar fund-raiser, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York; business donors are suspicious of the party’s other popular small-donor draw, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Even before Mrs. Clinton’s recent problems, a few Democrats had openly fretted about their party’s dependence on her. Deval Patrick, a former Massachusetts governor and an Obama supporter in 2008, said he “felt badly” for Mrs. Clinton and believed that voters would ultimately care about more substantive issues than her BlackBerry use.
But it might be better, Mr. Patrick suggested, for someone — anyone — to give Mrs. Clinton a run for her money.
“My view of the electorate is, we react badly to inevitability, because we experience it as entitlement, and that is risky, it seems to me, here in America,” Mr. Patrick said. “I want Democrats to win.”