For well over a decade, Adam Parkhomenko has been the most enthusiastic supporter of Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions. But now, the consultant who worked on Clinton’s 2008 and 2016 campaigns and their unofficial forerunners is backing a starkly different candidate.
Once a champion of an establishment-favored former secretary of state, Parkhomenko argues Democrats have the best shot at defeating unconventional and crass President Trump with in-your-face attorney Michael Avenatti, best known for representing porn star Stormy Daniels, who claims a 2006 tryst with Trump.
Parkhomenko, 33, remains close to Clinton and he's convinced she's not running again. In previous cycles, he was among her earliest backers, creating VoteHillary.com in 2003 and Ready for Hillary in 2013.
In Avenatti, Parkhomenko sees someone able to punch back at Trump. And like the president, he says the TV-savvy lawyer has a rare ability to side-step unfavorable coverage and branding.
"He's kind of like Teflon," Parkhomenko told the Washington Examiner.
Parkhomenko said in an interview that he speaks with Avenatti on the phone about 10-15 times a day in a bid to transfer institutional knowledge greasing the path to an actual campaign, stressing the importance of decisions as seemingly minor as picking an email list vendor.
“There are a lot of campaigns that aren’t effective, don’t fight back, and just hire a bunch of their friends,” Parkhomenko said. “He’s doing everything he needs to do to flip a light switch if he decides to run.”
Parkhomenko said there’s close to a 99 percent chance Avenatti will run in what's expected to be a crowded 2020 primary. And citing his recent interactions with Clinton, the consultant said he's also certain his long-time favorite candidate, now 71 years old, is not running.
“I don’t think she’s going to run. She hasn’t said anything to the contrary to me about potentially running again. She’s a client of mine, and I work with her on who she is endorsing and supporting,” Parkhomenko said. “I was working with her a couple weeks ago, and we were focusing on where she can have the most impact, especially in a lot of these districts that she carried ... and the topic of a hypothetical presidential run again has never come up."
Before her latest presidential campaign, Parkhomenko formed Ready for Hillary to encourage her to run, and to responsibly centralize information such as supporter email addresses. He later joined her campaign as director of grassroots engagement.
Described in 2016 as "the Clinton staffer who has devoted his life to her cause," Parkhomenko first backed her in 2003, when he was 17 and began a "Draft Hillary" movement. He was an assistant to her campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle during the 2008 primaries, when she lost to Barack Obama.
The fact that Parkhomenko is looking elsewhere for 2020 is the strongest indication so far that Hillary Clinton will never again run for president, despite a recent hint.
Unbeknownst to most people, Parkhomenko said that Avenatti has some political experience, helping with opposition research for more than 130 campaigns, working alongside Rahm Emanuel, now the mayor of Chicago, to help Democrats, including former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and former Vice President Joe Biden, who previously served as a Delaware senator.
Although seemingly quite different, Parkhomenko said he sees similarities between Clinton and Avenatti.
"I think she has always been a fighter. She has been attacked relentlessly, the same thing with him. I think a lot of us felt people didn’t get to see who she really is, which is a great person. There are some similarities,” he said.
But unlike Clinton, who Trump famously branded "Crooked Hillary," Parkhomenko believes Trump will struggle to brand the attorney he's battling with over a nondisclosure agreement and alleged defamation.
“Trump has not been able to label anything or do anything that sticks on Michael ... Fox News tried to pin this ‘Creepy Porn Lawyer’ thing on him, and every time that comes up, there’s an opportunity to talk about his client who had unprotected sex with Donald Trump. He’s not afraid of these guys,” Parkhomenko said.
The consultant concedes that Avenatti has baggage, though he downplays public scrutiny of his business dealings linked to a bankrupt coffee chain and a defunct law firm, a former employee of which won a multimillion-dollar judgment against Avenatti.
“What’s out there is out there. This age of Trump has changed things completely,” Parkhomenko said. “He’s kind of like Teflon. And I think Trump has got serious problems, many of them appear to be criminal, and somehow that guy continues to survive. And the stuff they are throwing at Michael is ridiculous and isn’t going to change a single vote.”
For the moment, Avenatti is getting a bargain.
He's not paying Parkhomenko for his guidance, although Politico reports Avenatti stocked up his new political action committee — The Fight PAC — with various Democratic staffers in media, fundraising, and compliance roles. The article on Avenatti's staffing progress noted Parkhomenko's support for his hypothetical campaign.
Parkhomenko told the Washington Examiner he first met Avenatti in July at a rally outside the White House. Avenatti contacted him in August asking for advice, and the two men traveled to Tampa, where Avenatti spoke to supporters. The consultant said he currently has no financial relationship with Avenatti, aside from reimbursement for travel costs.
Although socialism appears ascendant among the Democratic base, Parkhomenko said he sees in Avenatti an ability to reach Republican voters with a moderate political message, citing the reception to his outreach in Tampa.
“I think it’s a perfect recipe here for someone who hasn’t stood for office before, who naturally is effective and a good leader, and passionate and right on the issues," he said. “This fighter aspect of him is real. He is sincere, he’s serious, he’s smart."
Parkhomenko said he believes Clinton may even endorse his bid, though he suspects she's going to take a hands-off approach as a large number of Democrats vie to challenge Trump.
“If she’s weighing in [during the primary], I don’t see that happening early," he said. "I think she would be in a position to help the party come together after a long drawn-out primary fight.”
Avenatti responded to Parkhomenko's comments on Twitter.
I am incredibly fortunate to have @AdamParkhomenko in my corner. A true patriot who loves this country and fears for its future. https://t.co/bFQZahnT8j— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) November 1, 2018