WASHINGTON — Hillary and Bill Clinton hit Iowa on Sunday, her first trip back since she came in third in the 2008 caucuses, triggering a frenzy of rising expectations that this means she is getting closer to a 2016 White House run.
As the former secretary of state/senator/first lady ponders another presidential bid, a Chicago firm, 270 Strategies, is part of an extensive effort to build a political infrastructure for Clinton if and when she takes the plunge.
And just in case she doesn’t, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is among the Democrats laying the groundwork for a 2016 primary campaign, a reason he was in Chicago a few days ago, meeting with Democratic honchos in the city.
The official reason for the Clintons’ traveling to Indianola, Iowa, is to be the keynote speakers at a very big deal Hawkeye political tradition, Sen. Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry, the last for the retiring senator.
It’s a convenient excuse to visit Iowa, the state to cast the first votes in the contest for the nomination.
RELATED: Back to Iowa: Clintons to campaign in caucus state
Here are five things to know while reading the Clinton tea leaves:
* 270 Strategies, at 401 W. Superior, is one of the top consultants for the Ready for Hillary political action committee, which is running a sort of shadow campaign to build an organization for Clinton to quickly tap if she gets in. The partners at 270 are veterans of the Chicago-based Obama presidential campaigns, and they specialize in grass-roots organizing.
Lynda Tran, a 270 partner who is a Ready for Hillary adviser, said the group has been planning a campaign-style welcome in Iowa for her andencouragingIowa supporters to attend the Harkin Steak Fry.
“Ready for Hillary is also purchasing tickets and arranging buses for Students for Hillary supporters who want to attend the event — buses will depart from Drake University, Grinnell [College], Iowa State University, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa,” Tran told me in an email.
The Ready for Hillarybus that was made in Iowa, wrapped in Iowa and launched from Des Moines for its journey around the country accompanying Secretary Clinton’s book tour, also will be at the steak fry with folks available to hand out free T-shirts and put up signs.
* Among the Chicago donors to Ready for Hillary are a group of longtime Clinton loyalists and contributors: $25,000 from business executive Niranjan Shah; $5,000 each from attorney Mike and wife Pat Cherry; and $1,500 from Lynn Cutler, who served in the Clinton White House.
Between Jan. 1, 2013, and an FEC report dated June 30, the Ready for Hillary PAC has collected $4,297,930 and had $874,362 cash on hand. The PAC has contributed to a variety of state Democratic parties with the biggest donations, $10,000 each to the Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire, the state with the first primary vote.
* A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll of registered Democrats released Friday showed Clinton with a commanding lead over potential rivals:Clinton was at 53 percent; Vice President Joe Biden at 15 percent; Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., at 7 percent; and Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent allied with the Democrats, drew 5 percent. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had 3 percent; Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley 2 percent; and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick 1 percent.
* O’Malley hit Chicago last weekend to appear at rallies for Gov. Pat Quinn and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. But with an eye on 2016, O’Malley held private fundraising meetings with Democrats as he sought to forge connections within the Chicago donor community.
When we talked, O’Malley told me, “I’m seriously considering running in 2016” no matter what Clinton does, and in the meantime “I’m helping people in the midterms.”
* Biden, also in play for 2016, hits Iowa on Wednesday to speak at the kickoff event for the Nuns on the Bus “We the People, We the Voters” bus tour, according to the Des Moines Register.