More than 24 hours before Hillary Clinton’s signing of Hard Choices at University Book Store, people started lining up. The first was a woman in a panda suit. I didn’t interview the panda, but she’d already achieved momentary fame, including an interview on local public radio. She wasn’t allowed to wear the suit to meet Clinton, and by the time of the signing, employees had stashed the suit behind the sales counter. “We’ll be happy to get your panda suit back to you,” a bookseller said, and, turning to me, confided, “That’s the weirdest sentence I’ve said all day.”
Did anything newsworthy happen? Not really. Political events like this are so micromanaged, and security is so tight, and there are so many reporters in the room, that any news would have to be wildly accidental: Clinton would have had to trip on a patch of carpet and face-plant, say, or a panda would have to be Tasered by a Secret Service agent. But I have nothing like that to report. Clinton didn’t address the media beyond holding up a copy of the book and saying, “I look forward to signing a bunch of these for you today.” Press weren’t allowed to ask questions, and we were told not to record audio of the event, either, so even Clinton’s friendly comments to people in the signing line were lost to time as soon as she spoke them. The media had been through metal detectors, our bags had been searched by bomb-sniffing dogs, and we had all quietly snapped photographs and B-roll footage with long lenses from across the room. Once they finished taking pictures, a quarter of the press people covering the event got into the line to get their own copies signed.
No news was good news for the 1,200 people waiting in line: It moved quickly, everyone got a brief moment with Clinton and a signed book, and everyone seemed to leave happy. Hell, Clinton even showed up 15 minutes early, which is practically unheard of at these sorts of things (her husband is notoriously late for everything by a factor of hours). Contrary to the ridiculous Republican whisper campaign pushed by Karl Rove, Clinton appeared to be in great health. There’s no way she’s “brain damaged.” She walked into the room with the confidence you can only develop by being a Very Important Person for three decades. She laughed a lot, and loudly, with people passing through the signing line. “We obviously didn’t talk much,” someone holding a freshly signed Hard Choices told me about her signing experience, “but when she’s talking to you, she’s there with you in that moment. She makes you feel like she’s paying attention.”
The line snaked all the way around University Book Store—down stairs, around displays of Husky-themed tchotchkes, with security people in suits coaxing people along or demanding that they stop crowding each other. The crowd was mostly women—I wouldn’t say three out of four people in line were women, but it was closer to 75 percent female than it was to 50 percent. There were a lot of gay men, too, and clean-cut kids who looked like they were running for class president.
A man named Gil was holding a yard sign from Clinton’s 2008 run for president. “I was a big fan” of Clinton back then, Gil said. “Of course, I fell in line with Barack when the time came,” but he’s happy to support Clinton in anything she chooses to do.
I talked with two pairs of friends—Peter, Karen, Tara, and Kevin—who had met for the first time at 5:30 a.m. yesterday when they picked up wristbands that granted access to the late-afternoon signing. All four of them met back up at 3:30 p.m. to brave the signing line together. Karen later described the experience of meeting Clinton as “lovely.” I asked if they want her to run for president in 2016. They all nodded. “Absolutely,” Tara said. “I mean, we wouldn’t have started waiting at 5:30 this morning if we didn’t believe in her.” Karen demurred, “She’s a very impressive woman. She’s done so much, she’s so accomplished. Even if she doesn’t run for president, I think she’d be 5:30-worthy.”
But of course she’s running for president. Outside University Book Store, I saw a couple of representatives from the Arlington, Virginia–based super PAC Ready for Hillary supervising local volunteers passing out “I’m Ready for Hillary” stickers and convincing Hillary fans to pledge their support for a Clinton ’16 campaign. (The two women from Virginia, flown across the country to canvass this book signing, described their organization as “grassroots” with straight faces.) Even though super PACs aren’t supposed to coordinate with candidates, there’s no way that an organization like Ready for Hillary could recruit high-profile Democrats like Tim Kaine (and mid-to-no-profile Democrats like Christine Gregoire) without some subtle signal from Clinton that she’d appreciate the support. All she’d have to do is publicly tell Ready for Hillary to buzz off once, and the whole organization would dry up and blow away. But she doesn’t, and so they don’t, and now the organization has stockpiled millions of dollars to pump up the base at events just like this one.
Jackie Gause signed up to volunteer for the local branch of Ready for Hillary recently. She’s thrown a house party for the organization to help get people excited for Clinton in 2016. “I want her because she’s amazing. She has so much experience. With eight more years of Hillary Clinton after Obama, we could really help this country get out of the mess we were put in by you-know-who.” I asked Gause if she thinks this drive to promote a Clinton presidential campaign might be harmful to the midterm elections—midterms are always less sexy than presidential elections, with a much lower turnout, after all, so isn’t it possible that a huge personality like Clinton could suck the energy out of Democratic congressional races that really need it? Gause said the organization has been talking up the midterm elections and throwing their weight behind candidates who need the support. “It’s one of their goals,” she said.
Everyone I spoke with wants Clinton to run in 2016. And most of them displayed the kind of enthusiasm that Barack Obama supporters claimed in 2008—passionate not just for the track record of the former senator, first lady, and secretary of state, but absolutely impatient to get a woman in the White House, too. It was as though everyone in line had been prepped by an advance team, because all responses were remarkably similar: They cited Clinton’s long resume and plentiful experience for the job, they claimed that she had the right temperament for the presidency, and then they talked more generally about the historical nature of what a Clinton presidency would mean for them. The younger the woman, the more indignant she seemed about the fact that the United States has not yet had a female president. They were mad, and they were ready to work to fix the situation. Not every candidate can summon a crowd of 1,200 strong supporters and very likely voters nearly two and a half years before an election, and most candidates can never get this kind of conviction out of their supporters. It was a building packed to the rafters with true believers.
There were dissenters, of course. Not far away from the Ready for Hillary canvassers, a young man handed out sheets of paper and DVDs accusing the government of pulling some sort of grand cover-up around the Benghazi attack of 2012. An older man just stood around the doors of University Book Store, complaining loudly to nobody in particular about these “bitter,” “idiot women” who support Clinton “like sheep.” Even the Benghazi Truther seemed to want to separate himself from the creepy, misogynistic old man and the enormous stick shoved up his ass. All around them, young women poured out of the bookstore, signing in with the Ready for Hillary canvassers, affixing Hillary stickers to their shirts and pants and faces, and taking selfies with their freshly autographed books. They didn’t pay any attention to the angry white men.