The “Run Warren Run” campaign’s devotion to Sen. Elizabeth Warren could prevent its growing network of liberal grass-roots activists from rallying behind another Democratic presidential candidate if the Massachusetts freshman senator sticks to her refusal to run, the group’s leaders said Wednesday.
Campaign organizers have cultivated a nationwide network of more than 300,000 supporters and staffed field operations in Iowa and New Hampshire that would be a ready-made campaign apparatus if Mrs. Warren heeds their calls to enter the race as a liberal alternative to former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the undisputed front-runner for the nomination.
But they warned that the organization would not simply transfer to someone else if Mrs. Warren stays on the sidelines, whether it’s to Mrs. Clinton or even another liberal champion, such as Sen. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent and avowed socialist who is eyeing a run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“I don’t think the support for Elizabeth Warren is some commodity that can be traded easily to any candidate that enters the race,” said Neil Sroka, spokesman for the liberal activist group Democracy for America, which along with like-minded MoveOn.org is spearheading Run Warren Run.
“There is a really unique interest and passion in Elizabeth Warren,” he said. “She’s this incredibly authentic, powerful voice inside the Democratic Party that would really inspire the passion of the grass-roots base that Democrats need to win in 2016.”
Mrs. Warren, whose populist crusade against Wall Street has made her a darling of the party’s left wing, has repeatedly said that she is not running.
Still, Mr. Sroka and other organizers said they will continue to lobby Mrs. Warren at least through the fall to enter the race, while continuing to build a campaign-in-waiting that will enable the Massachusetts Democrat to enter the race much later than other candidates could.
“Part of the reason we are running this campaign is to elongate the time in which Elizabeth Warren can change her mind,” said Mr. Sroka. “The work that we’re doing on the ground in New Hampshire and Iowa ensures that if she decides to run, she’s not starting from zero. That kind of lengthens the period of time that she can get in.”
The draft campaign has a total of 12 full-time staff in Iowa and New Hampshire, along with dozens of volunteers and backing from state Democratic Party officials.
The organizers boasted that even if they haven’t yet prodded Mrs. Warren to enter the fray, they have forced other potential candidates to focus on the her pet issues, included income inequality, breaking up big Wall Street banks, expanding Social Security benefits and reducing student loan debt and college costs.
Despite Mrs. Warren’s reluctance to run, many Democratic voters see the race as a competition between her and Mrs. Clinton. Polls consistently show the 65-year-old Mrs. Warren finishing at a distant second to Mrs. Clinton.
The pressure to adopt that liberal agenda is being felt by Mrs. Clinton, who is expected to announce her candidacy within two weeks. She has carefully avoided taking policy positions for months but at a recent public appearance in Washington, Mrs. Clinton spoke of the need to address income inequality.
“Anyone who runs for president should talk about big economic ideas that will help rebuild the middle class in this country and improve the lives of working-class families,” Mrs. Warren told The Associated Press this week. “These issues matter powerfully in determining what kind of a country we are and what kind of future we’re building, and I applaud those who are working hard to make big ideas central to the conversation in 2016.”
Ben Wikler, Washington director of MoveOn.org, insisted that the draft effort was pro-Warren and not anti-Clinton, although he said Mrs. Clinton would benefit from a competitive primary process that gave her the opportunity to demonstrate her progressive vision.
“MoveOn members have tremendous respect for Secretary Clinton. But what we’ve seen over and over again is Sen. Warren publicly fighting against special interests and for the middle class in way that makes grass-roots activists stand up and cheer,” he said. “That kind of public fearless leadership is something that MoveOn members appreciate enormously and respond to.”