Chicago has Hillary Clinton fever -- at least for the month of June.
The first of a series of Hillary-centric, early-summer events kicked off here Thursday night with two back-to-back fundraisers for the beloved Democrat's would-be, could-be, yet-to-be-announced presidential campaign. Drawing a who's who of political heavies from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin -- not to mention a host of deep-pocketed donor elites -- the funders lacked a cameo from the woman of the hour.
If someone were having a party in your honor, wouldn't it be weird if you didn't show up? Yes, but in this case, it's weirder if you do. Clinton would have no choice but to cave under pressure and confirm she's running in 2016; meanwhile, her supporters await an official announcement as Clinton privately mulls whether to make another play for the Oval Office.
"She's listening," her longtime friend Kevin O'Keefe told NBC's Ward Room after schmoozing with Kevin Conlon, a high-profile Chicago political strategist and Barack Obama fundraiser, at the River North pub John Barleycorn.
"There's no one that's ever been better-ready for president," said Conlon, "and the fact that you see several hundred people out on a summer night shows the ability to mobilize young people and get young people interested in the campaign. ... We're hoping that she decides to jump in the race."
The Barleycorn bash, thrown by the grassroots Ready for HIllary PAC, lured about 300 people and an overwhelming number of starry-eyed "young people" who clinked wine glasses and cheered as a revolving door of politicians took the stage to pay tribute to Clinton. Cover charge required a symbolic donation of $20.
"Chicago, are you ready for Hillary?" asked Illinois congressman Bill Foster, to which the crowd shouted back: "YEAH!"
Next up were U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly -- declaring "I'm ready to do one thing, and that is to BREAK THE GLASS CEILING!" -- and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, with a brief anecdote about hearing the Clintons speak in 1991 after she was elected 4th Ward alderman.
"(Hillary) gave one of the more thoughtful, persuasive speeches I have ever heard, and when Bill came much later, his speech was not nearly as thoughtful or as persuasive or as organized," said the laconic maybe-mayoral candidate. "Everybody acknowledges that Bill Clinton is a master politician and a wonderful speaker, and let me tell you Hillary is better."
The former Secretary of State heads to Chicago next week to promote her buzzy second memoir, "Hard Choices," which drops Tuesday. Advance reports detail a largely gossip-free read wherein Clinton addresses the Big Question, writing: "Will I run for president in 2016? The answer is, I haven't decided yet."
Asked about her so-called uncertainty, Durbin -- up for re-election this year -- told reporters, "I am sure that's true. It's a big decision, you know, it's several years of your life to this. I hope she decides to run. But it's a personal family decision."
Durbin seized the spotlight to bash GOP strategist Karl Rove for suggesting that Clinton suffers from brain damage. "I don't want to be flip about that, but I have no question in my mind about her stability and ability to be President of the United States. If there's gonna be any kind of test, we have to start with Mr. Rove," he quipped.
Meanwhile, added Durbin, "Do they really think they're going to scare Hillary out of the race? I listen to these Republican congressmen -- Benghazi, Benghazi. That was a terrible thing. We lost four Americans. She appeared before the committee, answered all their questions. We've had thorough investigations here. They won't let go of it."
The senator was coming from an earlier Ready for Hillary party for some 150 big-money contributors and boldfaced names in business, held at Phil Stefani's steakhouse on Rush Street. Among the attendees: Attorney General Lisa Madigan, state Senate President John Cullerton and Emanuel, who skipped the second fundraiser to take his wife, Amy Rule, to dinner for their 20th anniversary.
The mayor, who publicly endorsed Clinton for president last month, will interview her during a "Hard Choices" promotional event on Tuesday that will also include an audience Q&A. Ten days later, Emanuel, a former senior adviser in the Clinton Administration, will recruit Bill to co-emcee a fundraiser for his campaign to secure another term at City Hall.