DES MOINES - Hillary Rodham Clinton hasn't announced whether she will run for president in 2016, but her supporters in early voting Iowa started organizing Saturday anyway.
During her 2008 run, Clinton placed third in the Iowa caucuses and her campaign was criticized for failing to match the organizational prowess of President Barack Obama's winning operation.
This time around, Clinton's Iowa backers are planning for a better outcome. Top Iowa Democrats gathered Saturday in Des Moines for an event aimed at generating support for a potential Clinton campaign. Craig Smith, senior adviser to the Ready for Hillary group, said he wants to ensure Iowa support for Clinton should she decide to run.
"The road to the White House runs through Iowa," said Smith, who was in New Hampshire earlier this month courting local political officials in another leading voting state.
Ready for Hillary is a so-called super PAC that is building a national network to benefit Clinton if she decides to seek the presidency in 2016. The former secretary of state, senator and first lady hasn't disclosed her plans, and a spokesman said Clinton had no affiliation with the Ready for Hillary group.
The Saturday gathering marked the first Ready for Hillary event in Iowa and was attended by top Iowa supporters of Clinton's failed 2008 presidential campaign as well as Obama's successful one. Iowa backers said they were planning a bigger statewide effort in early March with events in 50 to 60 communities around the state.
"We're going to very quickly move this from here to the grassroots," said Jerry Crawford, a Midwest co-chair for the 2008 Clinton campaign. "As you can see today, organizationally we're going to have a pretty good head start. They were ahead of us organizationally in 2008."
Clinton lost the Iowa caucuses in 2008, coming in third behind Obama and former Sen. John Edwards. The defeat came after she had been labelled the front-runner, and Clinton was criticized for failing to match Obama's organizational prowess in Iowa.
The heartland state has long proved a challenge for the Clintons. Former President Bill Clinton did not compete in the state in 1992 because Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin was running at the time, and in advance of the 2008 caucuses, Hillary Clinton considered pulling out of Iowa altogether. In addition, Iowa has never elected a woman governor or sent a woman to Congress.
One Democratic activist in attendance Saturday said Clinton's Iowa campaign was "sluggish" in comparison with Obama's.
"You can't have all these consultants that just come in from D.C. and run everything," said Phyllis Peters, 55. "It's got to be grassroots and all of our neighbors and friends and inside out."
Ready for Hillary spokesman Seth Bringman said that Iowa and New Hampshire were the first states where the group is doing this kind of grassroots organizing.
National support continues to grow for a Clinton campaign. Earlier this week, the liberal-oriented political group Priorities USA announced that it would back Clinton if she runs in 2016. Priorities helped raise millions for Obama's re-election.
High-profile Democrats clamoring for Clinton to run include Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.