Forget the 3 a.m. call.
What about that robo-call at 4 in the afternoon on the Monday before Christmas in Bethesda? And on Tuesday in Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, and Michigan, Florida, New York and Arizona?
“America would be better off today if Hillary Clinton was our president,” recites a woman sounding a little bit like, but definitely not, Hillary Clinton. “The Wall Street robber barons would be jailed, young people could afford college and find jobs and 6 million homeowners wouldn’t face foreclosure.” And? And please go to RunHillary2012.net and sign a petition, the call concludes, to persuade the onetime presidential candidate to go for it again.
Why? Who knows? We are in the two-week lull before voters actually begin to vote on a Republican candidate for president. It is a period of restiveness in the political land. And in that land, it seems that Clinton is forever destined to be a person of intrigue.
Never mind that the secretary of state is figuring out how to deal with the sudden ascension to power in North Korea of a 20-something with nuclear weapons.
Never mind that a spokesman at the State Department refused to comment Tuesday on the Hillary-for-president movement. For the umpteenth time. Never mind that Clinton has repeatedly been clear about her intentions in 2012 and beyond. (Chelsea! What your mother says she really wants is a grandchild.)
“It’s ridiculous. This is all just silly mischief-making by a very small group of people” — and he sighs — “with nothing better to do,” said Mo Elleithee, who served as Clinton’s national press secretary in the 2008 campaign.
And yet some wistful thinkers or mischief makers are always floating Clinton’s name.
In October 2010, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward went on CNN and declared that Clinton was under consideration by the White House to replace Vice President Biden on the reelection ticket. The White House and Clinton both pushed back hard on the report the next day.
The following month, former Clinton pollster Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell argued in The Post’s Outlook section that President Obama should do the nation a big favor and secure his own greatness by holding himself to one term. “Draft Hillary” petitions began to burble about on Facebook and via Twitter; one, at Change.org, reportedly sent so much e-mail into the inbox of Donna Brazile, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, that she asked the site to send a cease-and-desist to the guy behind the campaign.
Schoen and Caddell kept at it. They wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Clinton would make a better president, and this week they wrote in Politico that New Hampshire Democrats and independents should write in her name on the Granite State primary ballot Jan. 10.
Next the robo-calls spread across the country, for reasons that remain unclear and inexplicable. Both Schoen and Caddell voiced amazement at the robo-call campaign in interviews Tuesday and said they have nothing to do with it.
The reactions of those who got the calls were baffled or peeved, some of them in unprintable ways, judging by their narrative on Twitter.
Robo-calls are the junk audio of campaigns. They can be a relatively cheap technology for targeting voters. But they don’t work, according to academics who study get-out-the-vote operations, and usually infuriate the recipients.
Worse, they are a breeding ground for dirty tricks. Last week, a Maryland jury found an operative for gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. guilty of election law violations for an Election Day 2010 recorded message telling Democratic voters not to bother voting, because incumbent Martin O’Malley had already coasted to victory.
What is intriguing about the “Draft Hillary” calls is the seemingly careful targeting of certain voters. According to reports online, at the Web site StopPoliticalCalls.org and on Twitter, the calls seem to have been received predominantly by Democrats in those primary states that Clinton won in 2008. That is a clue that somebody might be using a list, rather than dialing randomly, and lists and sub-lists cost money.
A poster on the right-wing Free Republic site asked if others had received Draft Hillary calls and added, “My husband and I are both, unfortunately, union members. I wonder if this is why they called our residence.”
The person or group behind them has taken some pains to conceal identity.
The domain name runhillary2012.net was purchased through a proxy Nov. 18; its owners are anonymous. Information entered into the petition form at the site is collected by Webby.com, a do-it-yourself Web-building site which promises its users privacy.
“Nobody really knows” who’s behind the robo-calls, said Shaun Dakin, who started StopPoliticalCalls.org and helped write legislation that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has introduced to regulate the practice more strictly. “There are all kinds of theories. It’s the Republicans, it’s Karl Rove. It’s Schoen and Caddell. It’s the PUMAs,” the fierce female activists for Clinton in 2008.
Whoever it is, “the fundamental flaw in this logic,” Elleithee said, is that Clinton supports the president and his reelection. “And poll after poll after poll shows that Democrats are united behind their standard-bearer.”
In the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 82 percent of Democratic respondents approved of the president’s overall job performance, which is on the upswing since a low of 73 percent in early September. But on the economy itself, barely more than a third of Democratic respondents strongly approved of the president’s work on issue No. 1, even as his overall approval rating on the topic remains high at 70 percent.
“The Democratic Party is unified only by fiat,” Caddell said. Amid all of the flak he’s taken since arguing for Clinton on the ticket, “nobody jumped up and said [Obama is] a great leader.” Drafting Madam Secretary would be healthy, he argued, “because the stifling of dissent of the Democratic Party . . . is the greatest in my lifetime.”
Someone’s dissent is another’s “pathetic pathology,” as Howard Wolfson, Clinton’s press secretary during her successful New York Senate race, told this reporter in 2003: “We can’t speculate about 2004 anymore, so let’s speculate about 2008. Some people in the 19th century saw the Freemasons behind everything, and other people see the Clintons.”
Wolfson was responding to twittering (back when it was just vocal twittering) that Clinton would seek the nod in 2008. Which she did. And made a very strong go of it, too, receiving nearly 17.5 million votes during the six-month-long primary battle — about 40,000 fewer than Obama got.
Post polling director Jon Cohen contributed to this report.