JFK AND BEYOND
Drafting a President
HE SAW HIM AS THE PRESIDENT we were all promised as
kids. A Rhodes Scholar and a general. Someone larger than life.
So instead of waiting to see if his ideal president would run for
the oval office in 2004, John Hlinko MPP 1994 decided to get the
ball rolling himself.
He drafted Wesley Clark, a man he had never met before.
Clark had no idea he was doing it.
Crazy enough, it actually worked.
Less than five months after Hlinko and a handful of
friends started the draftwesleyclark.com campaign in early 2003,
Clark threw his hat into the ring and announced that he would run
for the Democratic nomination.
Hlinko doesnt take all the credit for Clarks
decision, but admits that the campaign, which got a lot of media
attention and is even rumored to have made it into a conversation
between Bill Clinton and Clark, did make an impact on the former
He told me afterwards that he was thinking of
running, but this campaign made it conceivable, Hlinko says,
citing the 50,000 letters that were generated by people asking him
to run. The campaign told him: This is real. People want me.
Hlinko, a former comedy writer, political consultant,
and grassroots organizer for efforts like MoveOn.org and justsayblow.com,
came up with the idea while having lunch with a friend in a restaurant
in Washington, DC, where he lives.
I had been reading this list of possible Democratic
candidates, a list of about 100 people, Hlinko says. There
was one guy on there, a General Wesley Clark. I didnt know
anything about him, but it struck me as, Wow! You dont
see that very often. A general. I started researching him and realized
he was exceptionally bright. I thought hed make one heck of
Someone, they realized over lunch, should draft this
Then we looked around the room and said, Why
not us? We put up a Web site and started asking people to
write to him.
Eventually, a simple Web site turned into a full-blown
campaign with an office a block from the White House (although it
was primarily operating on the Internet.) They raised $2 million,
ran savvy TV and radio ads, and stumped all over the media for their
And it was all done the Hlinko way: creatively. First
they connected interested Clarksters and Clarkettes,
as they came to be known, online. Then they organized in-person, meet-up
gatherings all over the country. Clark bars were handed out at events.
Dinners were auctioned on ebay. Wire-side chats were
used to keep the interested informed.
Hlinko, now vice president of marketing and creative
engagement for Grassroots Enterprise, a Washington, DC, public affairs
management company, says creativity is the only way to go.
I looked at this intuitively. The most popular
kid in the class is the stand-up comic, he says. Corporate
ads are much more creative than political ads, so why not adapt
the same techniques for political activism? I realized that when
I did things like hand out Clark bars, thats the stuff that
would end up in the New York Times or the Washington Post.
People were drawn to that.
Now that its all said and done Clark
ran and eventually dropped out of the race does Hlinko believe
that one individual, or one draft movement, can make a difference?
Absolutely. Weve gotten to the point where
individuals have a lot more power than they used to, he says.
One vote doesnt amount to a hill of beans. Thats
a fact. But an organized individual has the power to influence hundreds
and thousands of votes, and that does matter.
I can bet that the average Kennedy School student
right now has more addresses in his or her e-mail address book than
Paul Revere did on his entire ride. And he sparked a revolution.