After plenty of talk about Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren running for president, two of the biggest progressive groups in the country are formally getting behind an effort to draft the senator into the 2016 race.
MoveOn.org, the 8 million-members-strong group founded to defend President Bill Clinton against impeachment, announced Tuesday morning that it will spend at least $1 million trying to push Warren into the contest, pending approval from its members. Democracy for America, which grew out of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s presidential race, followed suit shortly thereafter.
“We are poised to put MoveOn’s full weight behind a campaign to draft Senator Elizabeth Warren to run for president,” MoveOn leaders Anna Galland and Ilya Sheyman said in an email to supporters.
The group is polling its members for the next 24 hours, and as long as a majority agree with the draft Warren effort, the plan will move ahead. “Fifty percent plus one and it’s a go,” spokesperson Ben Wikler told msnbc.
If its members approve, the group plans to have field organizers on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire – two early presidential states – starting as soon as next week. MoveOn will also conduct polls and other research, build a social media presence, and run television and online advertising. The group said it could end up spending far more than its initial $1 million commitment.
Warren has repeatedly said that she is not running for president, and her spokesperson again repeated the denial Tuesday. “As Senator Warren has said many times, she is not running for president,” spokesperson Lacey Rose told msnbc.But Wikler said Warren had the same posture before her 2012 Senate race, and pointed to an interview the senator gave People magazine in which she said “there are amazing doors that could open.”
While there have been other groups working to draft Warren, most notably the Ready for Warren super PAC, the involvement of MoveOn and Democracy for America represent a dramatic escalation in the institutional and financial energy being brought to bear on the effort.
Ready for Warren has raised only $66,000 since forming in July, according to campaign finance reports, and it has nowhere near the reach of MoveOn. MoveOn spent almost $10 million the 2014 election and DFA disbursed another $7 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and together have millions of committed members.
Erica Sagrans, Ready for Warren’s campaign manager, said she welcomed the news. “MoveOn’s support shows that Democrats want a progressive champion to run for president in 2016, and that tons of momentum is building behind the campaign to get Senator Warren into the race,” she told msnbc. Coordination with the other groups is yet to be determined, she added.
Guy Saperstein, the Bay Area Democratic donor who provided seed funding for Ready for Warren, said he he salutes MoveOn for the effort. “I long have admired and supported MoveOn, but I am stunned by their political courage and leadership,” he said in an email to msnbc. “I particularly note MoveOn’s call for ‘a Democratic nominee who fits the moment.’ I think this is exactly right. Hillary Clinton represents not only old ideas, but ideas which have failed.”
Wikler insisted the effort should not be read as a slight against former Secretary of State Clinton, the presumed front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. “MoveOn members have tremendous respect for Sen. Clinton and the other great leaders in the party. And that’s part of the reason why this movement, if we launch, is a pro-Warren campaign. It’s not an anti-anyone campaign,” he said.
He added that the effort would not initially seek to attract large donors, though Warren has a national network for high-dollar fundraisers.
Democracy for America recently conducted its own poll of the group’s roughly 1 million members and found strong support for Warren, with 42% choosing her as their top pick in 2016. Just under a quarter each chose Clinton or Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“Washington consultants can spout off a dozen reasons why Elizabeth Warren shouldn’t run, but none of that beltway blather means a thing next to this one, simple truth: The Democratic Party and our country desperately need Warren’s voice in the 2016 presidential debate,” DFA Executive Director Charles Chamberlain said in a statement. “Pending the results of MoveOn’s vote, we will ask DFA members to support our plans to join the emerging Draft Warren effort.”
Dean, who founded DFA from the remnants his 2004 Dean for America presidential campaign, has already expressed his support for Clinton.
But not all progressives are excited about the attempts to draft Warren. While there’s a school of thought that raising the specter of Warren in 2016 might move Clinton to the left on key issues, even if Warren doesn’t run, others think there are more productive uses of time and money.
“There’s a big part of this that feels deeply cynical to me,” said a Democratic operative who has worked with progressive groups and is sympathetic to their mission, if not tactics in this particular case. “Her supporters are going to be disappointed or let down when she does what she always says she’s going to do and not run. In effect, MoveOn and DFA are telling their members Elizabeth Warren is not being entirely truthful with them.”
The “other unintended consequence is the possibility that all of Senator Warren’s work will now be wrongly viewed through the political lens of presidential self-interest,” said the operative, who asked not to be named to avoid alienating progressive allies.
Polls show Clinton in a very strong position in the potential Democratic primary field. Warren is in second place in the RealClearPolitics polling average, but she’s more than 50 percentage points behind. Of course, polls at this early stage of the race are not necessarily indicative of how the field will shake out in 2016.
MoveOn will release the results of their poll of members Wednesday morning.