From cutting-edge technology to old-fashioned door-to-door

EL PAÍS visits Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters in Brooklyn

Marc Bassets
Three staff members work at the campaign headquarters.
Three staff members work at the campaign headquarters.edu bayer

The average age is under 30. Some of them are sitting on sofas or on the floor with laptops. There is constant movement – a mix of the old newsroom intensity and the fresh energy of Silicon Valley start-ups – on the 11th floor of this Brooklyn building.

It is here that the electoral campaign seeking to make Hillary Clinton the first female president of the United States is being created.

The electoral machine started up months ago, and nowhere is this clearer than at Clinton’s campaign HQ

The November 2016 presidential election is still far off. Each party must nominate a candidate after several months of primaries and caucuses. This process begins on February 1, 2016 in Iowa and culminates that next summer when each respective party’s convention will select its nominee.

The electoral machine started up months ago, and nowhere is this clearer than at Clinton’s campaign headquarters.

Brooklyn is a New York district of 2.5 million residents. The office is not located in that bohemian hipster Brooklyn but in an area of government buildings and nondescript offices.

Nothing about the entrance to 1 Pierrepont Plaza indicates that within is a team of people working to create one of the most powerful campaigns – in terms of fundraising capacity, organizational talent and technological sophistication – in recent history. A representative from the campaign has to accompany the visitor up the elevator to the office. A security guard inspects bags and then the visitor must sign in at the reception desk.

Hillary Clinton's campaign offices in New York.
Hillary Clinton's campaign offices in New York.edu bayer

Inside is another world. This time, yes, it is a Brooklyn cliché: the hipster with pink hair, the beards and expensive glasses, the cool vibe – relaxed and yet focused. Dozens of young dedicated people are mining data on voters day and night, following movement on social media and responding, organizing teams to send off to key states to mobilize demographic groups – such as Latinos – that will be decisive for victory.

Everything has a provisional air. The campaign began in April and it will end, if Clinton is the Democratic Party’s nominee, after the presidential election in November. Campaign workers are not necessarily New York residents. Some rent studios or stay at friends’ homes and then go home on weekends, if they have time.

The place is an open space with a few offices separated off by glass walls. John Podesta, Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff and ex-Obama advisor, is sitting in one of those offices.

Podesta serves as campaign chief and he is a key element in Clinton’s circle. He is the link that connects the many volunteers and 20- and 30-year-old specialists – many of them were children when Clinton was president – with the generation of 1968, Bill and Hillary’s.

From Obama to Clinton

Her campaign has learned from the mistakes made in 2008 when Senator and former First Lady Hillary Clinton was the favorite to win the Democratic Party nomination but lost to a young African American senator, Barack Obama. Some thought of her as the inevitable candidate. They were wrong. This time around her rival is Senator Bernie Sanders, a weaker candidate than Obama in 2008, but Clinton does not want to be overconfident.

A view of Brooklyn from Clinton's headquarters.
A view of Brooklyn from Clinton's headquarters.edu bayer

“The campaign is designed to win the Democratic nomination, to win the primaries,” says Jorge Silva, Clinton’s Hispanic media director. The presidential election will come later.

“At the moment we have a combination of President Obama’s staff from 2008 and 2012 and her staff from 2008. We are implementing, developing and following President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 strategy and combining it with Hillary’s from 2008,” he says.

When asked what they learned from Clinton’s mistakes in 2008 and from Obama’s successes, Silva says: “More than mistakes from one or the other, what we learned is that you have to knock on all doors, you have to go talk to voters where they are, you have to talk to Pedro, to Isabel, with everyone and ask for their support.”

Maybe we are taking some of President Obama’s models but everything is based on Hillary”

The Obama campaign made innovative use of big data – the analysis and processing of massive amounts of information to locate possible donors and voters and mobilize them to take action. “We are using the Obama plan to use technology and developing apps to find others that we couldn’t reach before.”

– How much of Hillary is in this campaign?

– A lot. Maybe we are taking some of President Obama’s models but everything is based on Hillary. Who she is, what she represents for women, for girls. What she has done for women’s rights, for the rights of the gay community, for equal pay. And what it will mean to see the first female president reflect these policies that she has spearheaded and pushed for since she was the first lady of Arkansas.

There is no trace of skepticism about the Clintons at campaign headquarters. Despite the scandals, real or imagined, their way of doing politics, which critics always find suspect, and their longevity. It has been 40 years since the Clintons stepped into the inner circle of power.

In this office, they believe in her. One day Bill Clinton visited and told them: “Think of this as a historic moment.”

Translation by Dyane Jean François.

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