It has been percolating for some time, but the appetite among some on the left for a strong Democratic primary challenger to Hillary Clinton, should she decide to run in 2016, has burst into the open in recent days.
Two progressive grassroots groups, MoveOn.org and Howard Dean’s Democracy for America, announced Tuesday that they would launch efforts to draft Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) into the race, if their members approved.
“There is too much at stake to have anything other than our best candidates in the debate,” Ilya Sheyman, executive director of MoveOn.org Political Action, said in a statement. “We are prepared to show Senator Warren that she has the support she needs to enter—and win—the presidential race.”
If a majority of its members okay it, MoveOn.org plans to spend at least $1 million to convince Warren to seek the White House. That would include staffing up in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, assembling volunteers and small-dollar donors à la the Ready for Hillary PAC, and media buys. Democracy for America didn’t detail its plans, but noted that a previous poll of its members had Warren with a nearly 20-point advantage over Clinton.
It was the latest sign among what you might call the institutional left of a desire for somebody to seriously challenge Clinton, who is currently an unprecedented favorite to be the Democratic nominee if she makes a bid.
The Nation focused most of its Dec. 15 issue on the need for a challenge to Clinton from the left. “Even the most ardent Hillary supporters should acknowledge that the Democratic Party, and the country, will be better served if she has real competition in the primaries,” the magazine’s editors wrote. “This is not an anti-Hillary message; it’s a pro-democracy one.”
The MoveOn/DFA combination is also, at least in theory, a significant amplification of the effort to pull Warren specifically into the race. They have more than 9 million members between them, a base that could plausibly compete with the three-million-plus supporters that Ready for Hillary has amassed. However, the $1 million that MoveOn.org pledged is paltry compared to the $12 million that Ready for Hillary has raised since its founding last year. It is significantly more, though, than the $66,000 that Ready for Warren, the main draft group prior to this week, has raised while attracting tens of thousands of supporters.
Erica Sagrans, who launched the Ready for Warren PAC, told TPM that MoveOn gave her a heads up before the Tuesday announcement and said it would look for ways for the groups to work together. “The only thing inevitable about the 2016 presidential race is that the movement to draft Senator Warren will grow stronger and louder,” she said in an email.
But is it really going to make a difference? Warren’s office repeated Tuesday that she is not running for president. Lacey Rose, a Warren spokeswoman, told TPM that neither MoveOn or DFA had consulted the senator before making their announcements.
“As Senator Warren has said many times, she is not running for President,” Rose said in an email.
But there is a recognition even among those who are supporting a Hillary candidacy that the desire for a robust primary challenge is real. They have also been saying all the right things about taking any potential insurgents seriously.
“There is a sentiment that the left and HRC would be better served if she had something to be fearful of,” one source aligned with the proto-Hillary 2016 world told TPM.
If Warren stays out as she says she will then, the question is whether this energy will dissipate or shift to another candidate. Clinton might not actually have much of a progressive problem once the real voting starts, as others have written, but a well-financed and well-run opposition campaign could still be a hassle for her if it taps into any lingering disaffection with her candidacy.
Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb (D) has already announced an exploratory committee, and two of the other most likely candidates — Sen. Bernie Sanders and outgoing Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley — have recently made some high-profile hires for their expected campaigns.
Sanders recruited Tad Devine, who worked on Al Gore and John Kerry’s presidential campaigns, and his team has been game-planning its fundraising needs, according to MSNBC. O’Malley has brought on Bill Hyers, who managed New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2013 campaign, as Politico reported last week.