TIME 2016 Election

Why Democrats Changed Their Minds on Cuba

It used to be that national politicians of both parties would diligently travel to Florida during every election cycle and compete, in speeches and town hall meetings, over who could be more in favor of the embargo on Cuba.

It was, after all, common political sense: Cuban-Americans were, for decades, a fairly monolithic voting bloc and their feelings toward the embargo were unequivocal. They were for it. No ifs, ands, or maybes.

But in the last decade, all that has changed. The reason is shifting demographics—the same trend that rocketed President Obama to the White House in 2008 and 2012 and that will do more to influence the outcome of 2016 than perhaps anything else.

Younger Cuban-Americans are less into the embargo than their parents’ generation, and much more in favor of relaxing laws to make it easier to travel and trade with the island.

This shifting dynamic is going to play out in 2016, too. In fact, it already has. Jeb Bush, who announced yesterday that he is considering a run for the White House, takes the old-school hardline position. He’s in favor of the embargo, full stop.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s position has evolved over the years. In 2000, when she was running for Senate, and in 2008, when she was running for the Democratic nomination, she too took the old-school stance. In December 2007, she said rather clearly that the embargo was the law of the land, and it wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

“Until there is some recognition on the part of whoever is in charge of the Cuban government that they have to move toward democracy and freedom for the Cuban people, it will be very difficult for us to change our policy,” she said.

But then, as Secretary of State, her position began to crack, and then soften, and then flip entirely. She called on Obama to take a second look at the embargo, which she argued was actually helping Fidel and Raul Castro, not Americans. “It is my personal belief that the Castros do not want to see an end to the embargo and do not want to see normalization with the United States, because they would lose all of their excuses for what hasn’t happened in Cuba in the last 50 years,” she said in a 2010 speech in Kentucky.

And in her 2014 book, Hard Choices, she backs up that view: “I recommended to President Obama that he take another look at our embargo. It wasn’t achieving its goals, and it was holding back our broader agenda across Latin America.” In July this year, in an interview, she came right out and called the embargo “a failure.”

Jeb Bush’s hardline position and Hillary Clinton’s evolving one is a reflection of the larger demographic shifts happening the U.S. today.

Bush, if he runs, will no doubt lock down the older, more conservative Cuban-American vote, while Clinton, if she runs, will be in a position to lock down the younger, hipper, more liberal Cuban-American contingent.

So who wins? Right now, it’s a toss up. According to a 2014 poll by the Cuban Research Institute, 53 percent of Cuban-American registered voters said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who backed the normalization of diplomatic relations. But if you bore down a bit on the issues, it seems to lean heavily toward the Democrats: 90% of young Cuban-Americans are in favor of reestablishing diplomatic ties with Cuba; 68% of older Cuban-Americans share that view too.

But it doesn’t have to be a huge majority for it to make sense to Democrats to change positions. It just has to be more competitive than it used to be, and it now is.

TIME 2016 Election

The One Issue that Will Complicate Jeb Bush’s Campaign

Jeb Bush
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks in Hollywood, Fla. on Jan. 29, 2014. Wilfredo Lee—AP

Jeb Bush loves Common Core. The Republican base hates it.

Bush’s announcement this morning that he plans to “explore the possibility of running for President of the United States” means that the Republican Party is going to have to sort out where it stands on this tinderbox of an issue.

Common Core is a set of academic standards put together by a bipartisan group of governors and promoted by the Obama administration. While both Republicans and Democrats first embraced the standards back in 2010 and 2011, they have fallen out of favor in the last few years. Grassroots conservatives and Republican office-holders now regularly condemn it as “federal overreach” and parents have protested changes in how subjects like math are taught under states’ new Common Core-aligned curricula.

Common Core now represents a kind of shorthand among Republicans: if you’re a real conservative, you’re against it; if you’re a faker, you’re for it. As a result, Republican governors in Oklahoma, Indiana, South Carolina and Missouri have scrambled to get on the right side of that divide, angrily decrying Common Core as “shameless government overreach” or even smearing it as “Obama-core.”

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who is often listed among the potential Republican presidential hopefuls, used to support Common Core, but now is so publicly against it that he has launched lawsuits against his own state and the U.S. Department of Education, claiming that the standards are a violation of state rights.

While most of that is shameless political theater, it still leaves Jeb Bush in a tricky position: in order to win the Republican nomination, he’s going to have to win over the Republican conservative base, which hates Common Core with the fire of a thousand suns. The easiest way to do that would be to disown Common Core. But that’s not likely to be in the cards.

For the past two years, Bush has been one of the loudest proponents of Common Core, among both Republicans and Democrats, boldly refusing to walk back his support—even when members of the Florida Tea Party called for his head, and even when the issue threatened to derail Republican Rick Scott’s tight race during this year’s midterms.

In late November, Bush told a crowd at a national education summit hosted by his group, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, that while he found the debate about Common Core “troubling,” he support was unwavering. He seemed to suggest that conservatives had been tricked into thinking that the Common Core was a federal program. “Education should be a national priority, not turned into a federal program,” he told the crowd, before urging them to keep fighting for reform and for Common Core.

This leaves Bush—and the Republican Party, too—with two basic choices. Bush can continue to embrace Common Core, but work with the Republican Party to rebrand it as an essentially Republican, states rights issue. Or he can walk back his support for the standards, which would be seen by many moderate Republicans, as well as his supporters in the education reform community, as a shameless cop-out.

Alternatively, Bush could take a page out of Mitch McConnell’s book, and do a little of both. After all, during the November midterm, McConnell angrily condemned Obamacare, while simultaneously supporting Kynect, which is Kentucky’s version of Obamacare. Voters didn’t seem to care.

While all of this politicking makes it seem like Common Core must be a wildly exciting—innovative! disruptive! far-reaching!—federal policy, it’s actually none of those things. It’s not even federal policy.

The Common Core State Standards—or CCSS, as they’re known in official documents—are a set of academic benchmarks. They list what students should be able to do, in math and English, after the end of each grade. For example, under Common Core, all kindergarteners should be able to count from 0 to 100; all eighth graders should be able to cite evidence for their argument in a text.

Common Core is not a national curriculum. It does not tell districts what books they have to buy, nor does it tell teachers how they need to teach. (Under Common Core, states and local school districts still have complete control over that stuff.) And perhaps most importantly, it’s not even a federal program. In March 2010, 40 state governors and their state chiefs of schools formally adopted the Common Core. By the end of the next year, a total of 46 states—led by both Republicans and Democrats—had signed on.

One reason that bipartisan moment didn’t last for long is that Obama’s Department of Education began to tie federal funding, though the Reach for the Top grants, to whether states had adopted either the Common Core standards or a state version that was equally robust. That gave the Common Core standards the sheen of being a top-down federal government program—which angered the Republican base.

The other main reason that Republicans turned against Common Core was that the program was poorly implemented. In some states, teachers were asked to teach to the Common Core standards before the states had even come up with an adequate curriculum or corresponding tests. In other states, new “Common Core-aligned” curricula were so confusing that teachers, parents, and students rebelled. According to an October Gallup poll, 58% of Republican parents now hold a negative view of Common Core—up from just 42% disapproval in April. Fewer than one in five Republican parents think the Common Core is a good idea.

If Bush wants the Republican nomination, he’s going to have to find a way to change some hearts and minds.

TIME financial regulation

Why It Matters That Congress Just Swapped The Bank Swap Rule

US-ECONOMY-FINANCE-BANKING-BOFA
NICHOLAS KAMM—AFP/Getty Images

A controversial change to the Dodd-Frank financial reforms trades more risk for taxpayers to get more profits for banks and their corporate clients

Banks may be officially allowed to get back in the casino business again soon.

Hidden as a rider in the $1.1 trillion continuing resolution omnibus bill—the hulking “Cromnibus”—that passed the U.S. House last night are a few, measly pages that pack a whole lot of punch. They repeal what’s known as the Lincoln Amendment in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

The Lincoln Amendment, which you’ll also see referred to in other articles as “Section 716″ or the “the swaps push-out rule,” was, if not Dodd-Frank’s heart and soul, than at least one of its vital organs. It says, basically, that banks can make risky bets on behalf of paying clients, but if they screw up and get into trouble like they did in 2008, then taxpayers aren’t responsible for bailing them out.

It did that by requiring that banks set up two big buckets: one that was backed by taxpayers (FDIC-insured), and one that was not. The idea was that banks would keep all of their normal, plain-vanilla banking activities in the FDIC-insured bucket, and then “push out” swaps and other risky contracts, like exotic, customized, and non-cleared derivatives, into the other bucket. (Swaps are contracts that allow banks to hedge their risks or speculate on everything from interest rates to currency prices. Credit default swaps contributed to blowing up the economy in 2008. Warren Buffet once called these sorts of derivatives “financial weapons of mass destruction.”)

If the Cromnibus passes the Senate in the form that it passed the House last night, the Lincoln Amendment will be officially repealed. Dead. Kaput. Gonzo. The swap casino will again operate with the tacit backing of taxpayers. If markets go haywire, as they did in the last financial crises, taxpayers may again find themselves forced with a choice between bailing out the casino owners and a systemic financial collapse.

The Bipartisan Policy Center, which is generally in favor of financial regulation, says people shouldn’t overreact to that news. It released a statement yesterday saying, in essence, “Relax, we still have the Volcker rule,” a reference to a different provision of Dodd-Frank that bans banks from using taxpayer-backed accounts to make their own bets on the future movement of markets.

But as the folks at the Roosevelt Institute point out, that argument doesn’t really make sense. It’s like saying that because you’re wearing a t-shirt, you don’t need a sweater. It’s true that the Lincoln Amendment and the Volcker rule overlap in some ways, but their coverage is different.

The heart of the Volcker rule is all about proprietary trading, which is when banks trade for their own profits and not on behalf of their customers. It’s similar to the Lincoln Amendment in that it doesn’t specifically outlaw anything; it says that banks can proprietary trade all they want, but if they get into trouble, taxpayers aren’t bailing them out. Lots of people in the financial world think that the Volcker rule is the most important part of Dodd-Frank, but it doesn’t cover everything.

The Volcker rule, for example, doesn’t apply to all risky financial products, like exotic and uncleared credit default swaps. That’s where other regulations, including the Lincoln Amendment, took up some of the slack. Unlike the Volcker rule, the Lincoln Amendment did apply to exotic and uncleared credit default swaps, and required that banks “push out” swaps into a bucket that was not backed by the taxpayers.

The best argument for not freaking out about the repeal of the Lincoln Amendment is that it wasn’t nearly as strong as its drafters intended it to be. The final version had loopholes the size of Montana. For example, while the Lincoln Amendment was intended to lasso all risky instruments, by the time all was said and done, it really only applied to about 5% of the derivatives activity of banks like Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo, according to a 2012 Fitch report.

In other words, the banks are in the casino business whether or not the Lincoln Amendment is repealed. But liberal Democrats, including Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts as well as a handful of conservative Republicans, like Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, say 5% of protection is better than none at all. They oppose the Cromnibus so long as that rider is in it.

House Republicans, for their part, say eliminating the Lincoln Amendment would streamline regulation, boost the economy, and “protect farmers and other commodity producers from having to put down excessive collateral to get a loan,” according to a summary statement. The bill is expected to pass the Senate, rider and all.

TIME technology

Five Ways Net Neutrality Supporters are Winning the Debate

Protesters hold a rally before the FCC meeting on net neutrality proposal in Washington, DC.
Protesters march past the FCC headquarters before the Commission meeting on net neutrality proposal on May, 15, 2014 in Washington. Bill O'Leary—The Washington Post/Getty Images

Proponents of net neutrality are winning the public debate, although that doesn’t mean they’ll win the policy fight.

A new report (PDF) released today by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation shines some light on the debate about net neutrality that’s playing out in Washington, DC these days.

The Federal Commission is expected to release new rules on net neutrality—the idea that Internet Service Providers should treat all web content equally—sometime next year.

Here are some highlights from the report.

1. Men loooove net neutrality. By analyzing news reports, blogs, Twitter, and about a third of the 3 million comments submitted to the FCC this year, the report found that 69% came from men, and 63% from metro areas.

2. And pretty much everyone else on the Internet loves it, too. Let’s put it this way: if you took all the public comments about net neutrality that you could find on Twitter and all the public comments submitted formally to the FCC, and you put a yellow dot on a map for all those in favor of net neutrality and a green dot for all those against it, the entire map would be yellow.

3. The public does not find the concept of net neutrality confusing. Sure, the infrastructure of the back-end of the Internet is complicated, but when it comes to articulating their opinions on net neutrality, the public isn’t intimidated. Of the 1.1 million comments to the FCC that the report analyzed, 40% were “unique responses.” That means that people took the time to write down their own thoughts on the issue, rather than just submitting a form letter prepared by an advocacy group. “This is higher then the typical 10 to 20 percent seen with other regulations,” the report said.

4. Instead of expensive lobbying, net neutrality advocates rely on pushing the public debate. Organizations hoping to get the FCC to pass the strictest-possible rules on net neutrality have staged protests, bought advertising, and launched sophisticated social media campaigns to win public support on the issue. But while they used to have a lock on influencing the public, that’s starting to change. Comcast, for example, “has recently pushed through corporate announcements and advertisements to promote their own open internet philosophy,” the report found.

5. Even the big ISPs lobbying on the issue claim to be in favor of net neutrality. Verizon, Comcast and AT&T, among others, have collectively spent $238 million on lobbying, according to the report, which analyzed roughly 2,500 disclosures from 2009 to the second quarter of 2014. While most ISPs claim their lobbying efforts are pro net-neutrality, their definition of net neutrality generally differs a bit. For example, the ISPs think web companies should pay for special, faster, or prioritized access to web users; pro-net neutrality advocates say such “paid prioritization agreements” ≠ net neutrality.

TIME 2016 Election

Hillary Clinton Backers Release Country Music Video

"She's a mother, a daughter, and through it all she's a loving wife."

A new, three-and-a-half minute country music video featuring cute cowboys in tight shirts, dusty tractors and Ken Burns-style shots of a young Hillary Clinton cooing over baby Chelsea was released on YouTube this morning.

While the video received mixed reviews at TIME’s D.C. office — a random sample of reactions included phrases like “croon-tastic,” “cute!” “cute?” and “oh, dear” — its mere existence underscores the reality that Hillary Clinton’s as-yet-unannounced campaign is going to happen whether or not she gets out in front of it.

The group behind the new country video is called Stand With Hillary, or SWH. It was formed in Southern California this fall by Miguel Orozco, Daniel Chavez and his daughter, Christina Chavez, “to create positive, social media stories” designed to “reach out to working class and Latino voters.”

Here are some of the lyrics the video features to do just that: “Thinking about one great lady, like the women in my life. She’s a mother, a daughter, and through it all she’s a loving wife. Oh, there’s something about her, this great lady, caring, hard-working, once a First Lady, she fights for country and the family and now it’s time for us to stand up with Hillary.”

Orozco and the Chavezes self-funded this video and the website, but in the future will be looking for small donations from supporters, Chavez told TIME this morning.

Chavez, who worked as a deputy director in the Department of Labor under Bill Clinton, said part of the motivation for starting SWH came from his wife and daughter, who were “deeply inspired by the Clinton family.” In the ’90s, a young Christina Chavez, who is now 32, had the opportunity to meet young Chelsea and Socks, the Clintons’ famous cat, during “take your daughter to work day,” Chavez explained. “She’s had a lifelong love of the Clintons ever since.”

TIME Education

Department of Education Walks Delicate Line on Single-Sex Classrooms

classroom
Getty Images

Guidelines won't make it easy for schools to create them

The Department of Education doesn’t have much to say about the science of whether boys and girls’ brains work differently. But if you read between the lines of its guidance on single-sex public education released Monday, it’s clear the agency is not sold on it.

Taking up only about a page of the 34-page guidelines, the Department of Education says only that “evidence of general biological differences is not sufficient to allow teachers to select different teaching methods or strategies for boys and girls.” It stops short of either condemning or praising single-sex classrooms.

But if the agency avoided taking an official stance, the guidelines [PDF] are clearly designed to slow the trend towards separate classrooms by describing a fairly complicated legal pathway that school districts must follow in order to create them without violating the U.S. Constitution or equal rights laws.

That’s likely due to the fact that separate classrooms are at the center of a white-hot debate in education circles today.

Led in part the conservative school choice movement, advocates for single-sex education base their case on scientific studies about how girls’ and boys’ brains are “hard-wired” differently, and argue that separating the genders would improve learning outcomes. While specific methods differ by state and district, they mostly hinge on the idea that girls learn better in emotionally supportive, collaborative groups and may not be as good at grasping abstract mathematical concepts, while boys thrive in competitive environments and tend to struggle with reading and art.

For example, one professional development session in Florida this year instructed teachers to engage boys “in higher level discourse,” while focusing on connecting emotionally with girls. “Girls will learn better if they believe a teacher cares about them,” the program stated, according to the ACLU. Another Florida program designed for kindergarten teachers was called “Busy Boys, Little Ladies.” Outspoken psychologist and physician Leonard Sax, who has written extensively on the issue, says that girls do not respond positively to stress and so should not be given time limits on a test, while boys should be challenged with competitive activities and required to play sports.

For many social scientists, the idea of teaching children separately — or even differently — because of their gender boils the blood. One widely-cited 2011 study, “The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling,” dismissed the studies used by people like Sax as “deeply misguided, and often justified by weak, cherry-picked, or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence.” And a February 2014 meta-study by the American Psychological Association, which looked at 184 studies of more than 1.6 million students around the world, said there is simply no reason to believe that girls and boys learn better when they’re separated from each other.

While some state and district-level studies indicate that children in single-sex classrooms have improved more rapidly than their co-ed counterparts, social scientists caution that the success of some single-sex programs can often be attributed to other variables, such as increases in funding, more parental engagement, and changes in discipline techniques.

Civil rights advocates have picked up the fight. In September, the American Civil Liberties Union called on the DOE to “make clear to schools across the country that sex segregation based on … blatant sex stereotypes violates the law.” The ACLU has filed cease-and-desist letters to at least a dozen states, including Alabama, Maine, Mississippi, West Virginia, Virginia and Florida, in the last few years calling on them to stop separating boys and girls on the basis of “junk science” on how the two genders’ brains work.

The ACLU has also launched a nationwide campaign, “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes,” which argues that promoting entrenched ideas of what it means to be a girl or a boy is harmful. For example, in one Florida school, according to the New York Times, the boys’ classroom is decorated with race cars and football iconography, while the girls’ classroom, lined with animal prints and pink accoutrement, admonishes girls to “Act pretty at all times!” This year, the ACLU filed a federal complaint with the DOE on the basis that several counties in Florida are using “junk science about difference between boys’ and girls’ brains” to promote sex discrimination.

The DOE’s recent guidelines gave a nod to the ACLU on that much. If teachers of single-sex classes “became aware of” studies suggesting that girls’ hearing is more sensitive than boys’ hearing, for example, and then implemented a teaching method of “talking loudly” in all-boys classes, that would be a violation of equal rights legislation, the DOE guidelines read. In order to be legal, teachers must rely on “evidence that directly linked that particular teaching method or strategy to improved educational achievement for boys,” rather than on “purported biological difference…to conclude that the particular teaching method or strategy was appropriate,” they said.

Meanwhile, the number of single-sex classrooms, as well as entirely single-sex public schools, continues to grow. In the 2001-2002 school year, only about a dozen public schools offered single-sex classrooms, according to the National Association for Choice in Education (NACE); by the 2011-2012 school year, there were about 500. Now, there are about 750 public schools that offer one or more single-sex class, and 850 entirely single-sex public schools around the country, according to government data. One reason for the growing trend toward single-sex education is former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings’ 2006 decision to push through new rules on single-sex classrooms and schools, which gave states and public school districts more leeway in creating and funding single-sex learning environments. This year, for instance, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed new legislation to provide more training for teachers who work in all-boys or all-girls classes.

The uptick in single-sex classes and schools is also due to the fact that beliefs about how boys and girls brains work remain deeply entrenched in the mainstream. In 2005, former Harvard University President Larry Summers famously, or infamously, suggested that perhaps there were “issues of intrinsic aptitude” among men and women in the sciences. On its website, the National Education Association offers an even-keeled assessment of the pros and cons of single-sex education. The DOE’s guidance Monday also didn’t take sides.

In some ways, this discussion is not new. In the ‘90s, advocates of single-sex classrooms cited studies indicating that girls were intimidated and distracted by their male counterparts’ louder, more confident answers in class, and therefore tended to become less active participants in learning environments. In the 2000s, as girls’ test scores and grades skyrocketed, eclipsing the boys’ more incremental improvement, advocates for single-sex classrooms simply shifted their theory, citing other findings indicating that boys are unable to fairly compete in classrooms where supposedly “feminine” skills, like sitting still and writing neatly, are rewarded.

Critics of single-sex education argue that such shifting justifications should be a red flag. “These are the kinds of ideas that have historically been used to push boys and girls onto very different educational tracks,” said Nancy Abudu, ACLU of Florida’s Director of Legal Operations, in a statement. They are “exactly what anti-discrimination laws are supposed to protect parents and students from.”

TIME Immigration

Latinos, Young Voters Applaud Obama Action On Immigration, Polls Show

Immigrants Rally To Thank Obama
Nov. 21, 2014 - Washington, District of Columbia, U.S. - Hundreds of Latino activists and families gather outside of the White House the day after Obama's immigration executive order in Washington on Nov. 21, 2014. Oliver Contreras—Zuma Press

Latino voters of both parties blame Congressional Republicans for failing to pass an immigration reform bill

The vast majority of Latinos and voters under the age of 35 support President Barack Obama’s executive action last Thursday shielding between 4 and 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation, according to new national polls.

The overwhelming support from these two growing demographics may have major implications for voter turnout and party affiliation in 2016.

Almost 90% of Latino voters say they “support” or “strongly support” Obama’s executive action, according to a national poll by Latino Decisions and commissioned by two pro-immigration reform groups, Presente.org and Mi Familia Vota.

Nearly three-fourths (72%) of voters under the age of 35 supported the president’s action, according to a national poll by Hart Research Associates [PDF].

While both Latinos and young voters showed particularly strong support, 67% of all voters—both men and women from states that supported both Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012—felt favorably toward the executive action, according to the Hart Research poll. More than two-thirds of all voters were in favor of allowing the undocumented parents of children or young adults to stay in the U.S., and of providing temporary work permits to eligible immigrants.

Both polls found that voters believe Obama’s executive action is lawful. Respondents strongly disagreed with strategies, suggested by some Republicans, to fight the action: 72% of voters opposed the idea of Republicans shutting down the government until the president agrees to end the executive action, according to the Hart Research poll. (62% of Tea Party Republicans were in favor of that strategy.) Four out of five Latino voters opposed the idea of Republicans passing a bill to defund a federal program issuing work permits to undocumented workers, according to the Latino Decisions poll.

Latino support for the executive action appears to be largely bipartisan, according to Latino Decisions. While 95% of Democratic Latino voters were in favor of the executive action, 76% of Republican Latinos were as well. The issue of immigration reform remains deeply personal for many Latino voters, 64% of whom have friends, family members, coworkers, or acquaintances who are undocumented.

Sixty-four percent of Latino voters blamed Congressional Republicans for failing to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill; 24% blame Obama and Democrats, according to the Latino Decisions poll.

Insofar as Latino voters were disappointed by Obama’s executive action, the reason seems to be that it didn’t go far enough. Two-thirds (66%) of Latinos said that Obama should use additional executive orders to shield from deportation those undocumented immigrations who were not covered by last Thursday’s action, which covers only those who have not committed a crime, lived here five or more years, and are either parents of a U.S. citizen or legal resident child here in the U.S. The action does not grant them citizenship, but it does allow them to get legal work permits.

The Latino Decisions poll included 405 Latinos randomly selected from a nationwide database of registered voters. Its margin of error is +/- 4.9%. The Hart Research Associates poll surveyed 800 likely 2016 voters and had a margin of error of +/-3.5%.

TIME 2016 Election

Hillary’s 2016 Campaign is Ready, Hypothetically Speaking

Hillary Clinton
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to a crowd during a campaign stop to promote Democrats in re-election bids in the east Denver suburb of Aurora, Colo. on Oct. 21, 2014. David Zalubowski—AP

Would-be surrogates tried to make the case for Hillary without admitting she's running

Hillary Clinton is almost definitely, but not certainly, going to run for president and if she does, she’ll most likely be the strongest candidate, but she could totally still lose, so Democrats shouldn’t get cocky.

That was the awkward message from would-be Clinton surrogates who were among the several hundred politicos, fundraisers and activists who showed up for a “Ready For Hillary” convention in New York Friday.

At some moments, they seemed to fall over themselves insisting that the former Secretary of State’s ascendancy should not be considered “inevitable,” while at other moments they discussed in great detail the organizational structure, fundraising and messaging efforts that are already in place to buttress her 2016 campaign.

Former Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez said that ambivalence as a result of the pummeling Clinton’s campaign received six years ago, when many Democrats considered her a shoo-in as the Democratic nominee.

“In 2008, we got eviscerated by a better campaign on the ground,” he explained. “Lessons have been learned. So there has been extraordinary preparation and it’s a very, very different, far more sophisticated operation that’s there and it’s ready for her, should she decide to run.”

Adam Parkhomenko, who founded the organizational group Ready for Hillary, which has spent the last two years collecting a database of roughly 3 million supporters, echoed the sentiment.

“I wouldn’t have been doing this since January 2013 if I thought she was inevitable,” he said. “We learned in 2008 she’s not inevitable. No one’s inevitable.”

Stephanie Schriock, the head of EMILY’s List, who is expected to play a major role in a future Clinton campaign, said she looks forward to a “healthy primary.”

“As everyone goes through a presidential primary process, it’ll be the candidate who make the case,” she said, adding that Clinton, while clearly the front-runner, will not be immune to that process. “There’s nothing inevitable about 2016.”

Meanwhile, several Clinton backers, including Schriock, former Obama campaign organizer Mitch Stewart, Correct the Record’s David Brock, and political strategist Chris Lehane, spoke directly about what organizations would have to work together on the ground to make a 2016 Clinton campaign most effective, what issues Clinton would be most likely to emphasize, and what message the campaign would be built around. All agreed that a hypothetical Clinton campaign will likely to focus on working class voters, who are feeling increasingly marginalized in today’s economy.

Clinton must project a vision for “economic opportunity for American families,” said Schriock. That’s a phrase she used, with slight variations, twice more during a half-hour talk with reporters. The campaign will likely focus on connecting with working class voters, women, Hispanics and the African American community over issues like equal pay, minimum wage and leveling the playing field for the middle class, she said.

Nina Turner, an Ohio state senator, said that a Clinton campaign could easily motivate key voting blocs, like the African American community, by staking progressive positions on issues like prison reform or creating more economic opportunities for the working poor. But, she said, “This is not about a coronation for anybody.”

Stewart agreed that “a hypothetical Clinton campaign” would have to focus primarily economic issues. “We have to come up with an economic message that shows working class voters that we’re on their side,” said Stewart.

When asked what issues would put Clinton in the strongest position against other potential Democratic contenders, such Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders, or Jim Webb, who announced yesterday that he was exploring the possibility of running, Stewart demurred. “I’m not going to comment on any hypothetical candidate,” said Stewart, laughing. “Except my specific hypothetical candidate.”

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