No primary challenger? No problem say attendees at Tampa Ready for Hillary event

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Mise en Place was the place to be if you were a Tampa Democrat on Tuesday night, as the upscale establishment played host for the latest (and probably last) Ready for Hillary fundraiser in the Bay area.

Hundreds crammed into the restaurant’s backroom, a destination for Democratic fundraisers over the years, each contributing the $20.16 requested to show their support (and their email addresses) for the super PAC created two years ago by Clinton supporters pushing her to run for president. When and if she announces her candidacy (rumored to be happening in April), Ready for Hillary will fade away, as she establishes her own PAC to raise money for her campaign.

Unlike the Republican Party, which has as many as a dozen potential candidates running for president already, the Democrats have none at the moment. Zero. Zilch. Nada. And when Clinton presumably announces her candidacy this spring, she may not have any formal opponents.  But is that a good thing?

“There are two schools of thought on that,” acknowledges Democratic political consultant Ana Cruz, who was greeting guests as they entered the event. “Personally, I don’t have a preference one way or another, but I will tell you that we are not waiting to see if there is going to be another candidate who emerges or not. We are building a grassroots organization so that when she is ready to pull the trigger, she will have a well-organized grassroots volunteer and donor base to win what it takes in a large state like Florida, and we’re also doing this all over the country.”

Joe Biden was in New Hampshire on Wednesday. The vice president was scheduled to receive an award and give a speech at the University of New Hampshire School of Law in Concord, but it was also a chance to visit an early voting presidential state. Biden has not declared whether he’ll compete for the Democratic presidential nomination. Nor has Elizabeth Warren, Martin O’Malley or Bernie Sanders, all Democrats mentioned as possible 2016 candidates. Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb formed an exploratory committee last fall, but has not done much with it since.

“When you look at other possible candidates like Joe Biden, I don’t he’s a strong candidate,” Charles Jeffers said at Tuesday night’s event. “I know it’s better to have things hashed out, but I think if the Democrats are going to win, they’re going to have to figure that out without the debates.” And he said that the news that the Koch Brothers are poised to pour more than $800 million into the election is enough to make sure Democrats don’t get complacent behind Clinton.

“That’s just an in-your-face challenge that really shocked people, and I think that’s probably going to energize more people than they ever imagined,” he said.

The prevailing sentiment among the attendees was stated by Jeffers wife, D., who said, “I think Hillary is brilliant, she will have the right strategy, and have our country at heart, and do the right things.”

Westchase resident Deborah Medina originally supported Hillary in the 2008 race for the Democratic nomination before jumping onto the Obama bandwagon, which she says she was proud to do. She says she hopes the Democrats can echo the Republican Party’s ability to have a single basic message that their followers can stand behind. “We have a lot of ideas, and it’s great that we include so many people and what they want, but then it makes it so hard to get them together and make them cohesive into one thing,” she said.

When told that it’s very difficult in American politics for the Democrats to retain the presidency for 12 years (only done twice before, Medina acknowledged that but said she thinks that with the GOP controlling both houses of Congress, Democrats will be fired up more than usual for a presidential contest.

Former University of Tampa Political Science professor Rich Piper was one of the few at the event who said that he didn’t think it was a good thing that Clinton may not be challenged in the primary.

“I think it’s best to be tested before the general election,” he said. “I’m for Hillary for the moment. I still think it would be good idea to have a challenge, because you never know. Hopefully she’s learned from her 2008 mistakes.”

Mark Hanisee, former chair of the Pinellas Democratic Party who is now doing fundraising for the Hillsborough Democrats, says he thinks Clinton’s dominance at the top of the ticket augurs good things for state and local Democratic parties. “When you have unity at the top, it trickles down to the federal level, to the state level and to the county level. That’s going to be good for the Democrats.”

Among those in attendance included Florida Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner, former CEO Alex Sink, Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, and former state Rep. Betty Reed.

Meanwhile on the far west part of Tampa, Republicans hobnobbed with Jeb Bush, who was participating in a fundraiser for his PAC, Right to Rise. There, the minimum to get into the party was a $1,000 contribution.

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.



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