- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2015

With Hillary Rodham Clinton’s poll numbers sagging and questions about her honesty and integrity creeping into the presidential race, analysts say it’s an ideal time for a Democratic challenger to make a move — and a growing number of influential liberals want that challenger to be Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

More than 40 current and former lawmakers in the key states of Iowa and New Hampshire signed letters this week urging Ms. Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, to enter the race. The freshman senator and progressive hero consistently has said she won’t run, but support for a Warren candidacy now is extending beyond activist groups such as MoveOn.org and Democracy for America and reaching into the political power structure in crucial early-primary states.

At the same time, Mrs. Clinton’s poll numbers are slipping as she struggles to explain why she used a private email address during her four years as secretary of state and faces a dogged investigation from Republicans who openly question whether she deleted messages related to the deadly 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack.

Mrs. Clinton’s favorability rating has dropped 6 points over the past four months and now stands at 53 percent, according to a CNN/ORC International Poll. More than 50 percent say her use of private email is a “very or somewhat serious” problem, and 51 percent said they believe she did something wrong.

While Mrs. Clinton has maintained a significant lead over potential Democratic challengers, there are signs that the ground is now as fertile as ever for Ms. Warren or another liberal favorite to jump into the race.

At the very least, Warren supporters say, Mrs. Clinton should face a legitimate fight for the nomination and should be seriously challenged on the debate stage.

SEE ALSO: Elizabeth Warren hijacks Senate hearing, blasts corporate settlements

“We’re urging Sen. Elizabeth Warren to join the 2016 race for president because we know, firsthand, how important a robust primary debate of our progressive values is to New Hampshire voters,” said state Rep. Renny Cushing, one of 27 current or former New Hampshire lawmakers who signed a letter calling for a Warren candidacy.

New Hampshire is home to the nation’s first primary election, coming on the heels of the Iowa caucuses. Mrs. Clinton won the New Hampshire contest in 2008 after losing to Barack Obama in the Iowa caucuses.

“The Granite State’s grass-roots activists, the same friends and neighbors who knocked on doors and made phone calls to send us to Concord, want [to] hear from Sen. Warren in 2016, so we’re standing up to make sure their voices are heard,” Mr. Cushing said.

Sixteen Democratic lawmakers in Iowa expressed similar sentiments, signing on to a letter released by the Run Warren Run initiative. Run Warren Run was organized by liberal groups MoveOn and Democracy for America and includes political ground operations in Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere.

In the letter, the Iowa lawmakers expressed support for Ms. Warren’s economic populist pitch and focus on income inequality. The senator’s platform appears to have struck a chord with powerful Democrats in the state.

“I like the way she can say what she thinks. I feel like she’s talking right to me, to what’s in my head,” Lorraine Williams, chairwoman of Iowa’s Washington County Democrats, told The Des Moines Register.

While political analysts say there is a growing desire in the Democratic Party for a more liberal alternative to Mrs. Clinton, a Warren bid is by no means guaranteed to succeed.

“I still think it’s hard right now to see a path for her,” said Matthew Dallek, a political science professor at George Washington University who specializes in political leadership and the presidency.

Mr. Dallek said the former secretary of state’s email scandal, as evidenced by polls, could create opportunities for other Democrats but it’s unclear whether any other candidate is strong enough to take full advantage.

“It kind of gives you an opening to try to run as the anti, the alternative to Hillary Clinton,” he said. “Having said that, the universe of potential candidates is fairly small and the names we’ve heard are pretty weak. Even Elizabeth Warren — it is totally unclear whether she would have the kinds of things one would need to run a really strong race that would be truly competitive.”

Indeed, polling shows Ms. Warren far behind Mrs. Clinton, despite growing liberal enthusiasm.

A CNN/ORC International poll released Tuesday shows Mrs. Clinton with the support of 62 percent of Democratic voters. Vice President Joseph R. Biden came in second with 15 percent, and Ms. Warren placed third at 10 percent.

Sen. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats, garnered 3 percent, while former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia each pulled in 1 percent.

It remains to be seen whether questions about her email use will derail Mrs. Clinton’s expected presidential campaign. House Republicans are pressing her to turn over her personal email server to a neutral third party, but Mrs. Clinton has said she has no intention of doing so.

The former secretary insists she provided the State Department with all official emails and that she deleted only messages of a personal nature.

“I fully complied with every rule,” she said at a press conference last week.

David Sherfinski contributed to this report.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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