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Warren Won't Rule Out 2016 as Draft Movement Gears Up

Warren Won't Rule Out 2016 as Draft Movement Gears Up

By Scott Conroy - December 16, 2014

Not long after she helped lead the Democratic opposition to the $1.1 trillion spending bill that the Senate passed late Saturday night, Elizabeth Warren was presented with the big question about her own future.

In a Monday morning interview with NPR, the first-term Massachusetts Democrat was asked four different variations of the same query: Would she consider running for president in 2016? 

In each instance, Warren answered the same way she has whenever someone wants to know if she harbors White House ambitions: “I am not running for president.” 

That statement may sound like a Shermanesque denial at first blush, but placed in its proper context, it is anything but.  

As NPR’s Steve Inskeep and many other observers have noticed, Warren always answers the presidential query in the present tense and assiduously avoids any deviation that might rule out a future bid.  

Warren may not be “running for president” at the moment, but neither is anyone else, for that matter.  

Far more relevant is the question that she has repeatedly chooses not to answer: Might she run for president, after the 2016 campaign official kicks off next year?  

The continued interest in her unwillingness to clarify this distinction is one that appears to frustrate Warren, yet the former Harvard Law School professor knows full well that the “will she or won’t she” speculation is largely of her own making.

“I believe her when she says she’s not running for president, and she’s not taking steps to do so, but as we know from history, these things are extremely fluid,” said Scott Ferson, a former spokesperson for the late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy. “I’m sure she’d like the questions to go away, but I don’t think she wants to do it at the expense of taking herself out of any potential future run. Why would she be the only person in D.C. to do that?” 

Warren’s speech on the Senate floor Friday night -- which railed against Washington’s deep-seated ties to Citibank amid a proposed rollback of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law -- was only her latest harangue to fire up the progressive grassroots, who are excited about the prospect that she might challenge Democratic frontrunner-in-waiting Hillary Clinton from the left.  

A group called Ready for Warren has been working to draft the former consumer protection advocate into the race, and last week more than 300 former Obama campaign staffers signed a letter urging her to run.  

In what has perhaps been the most significant piece of the draft movement puzzle so far, the liberal group MoveOn.org recently launched a $1 million effort to persuade Warren to enter the race and is in the process of establishing a presence in Iowa and New Hampshire.  

Partnering with Ready for Warren, MoveOn.org is hosting its first “Draft Warren” rally at a coffee shop in Des Moines on Wednesday -- an event that will be closely watched for indications of enthusiasm for her candidacy among progressive activists in the nation’s first voting state.    

“I think it’ll be well-received,” Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Scott Brennan predicted of the event. “She has an excellent populist message that has been well-received by Iowans and the folks who are caucus attendees.” 

Aside from her carefully crafted rhetoric designed to leave the door open for a run, Warren has taken none of the early steps typically required of prospective presidential candidates in advance of a campaign.  

In that respect, she has been acting much differently than other Democrats who are weighing White House bids.  

Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb has already launched a presidential exploratory committee, while Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have been open about their interest in seeking the Democratic nomination.  

None of those would-be challengers to Clinton, however, has demonstrated the fundraising capacity and facility for animating core party constituencies to the extent that Warren regularly does.

And none of them has garnered the kind of attention from Clinton’s camp that Warren has.  The Washington Post reported earlier this month that former President Bill Clinton is particularly concerned about the threat that Warren could pose to his wife’s likely candidacy.  

But despite her potential to upend the nominating contest, Warren currently poses modest numbers in national and early state polls and would enter the race as a significant underdog.  

Massachusetts-based Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh is among those who continue to be skeptical that the Bay State senator will run, even if Clinton were to shock the political world and decide against a bid herself.   

But even the doubters see ample reason for Warren not to shut the door publicly at this stage of the game.

“If you look at what she was able to accomplish in 48 hours this weekend and in less than two years in office, Elizabeth Warren may be the most influential politician in Washington right now, frankly,” Marsh said. “So the more she builds up her clout, the more likely that she’s going to be able to influence people running for president and every other office and influence United States senators. And that’s what she really cares about.”

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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