Clin­ton or San­ders? El­iz­a­beth War­ren isn’t say­ing

▶▶The Demo­cratic star skipped a pres­i­den­tial run, but she’s stayed in the pic­ture ▶▶“Her prime di­rec­tive is not to dam­age the party’s chances in Novem­ber”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - CONTENTS - −Joshua Green

Early last year, the frenzy to en­list El­iz­a­beth War­ren in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial race grew so in­tense that a Ready for War­ren group emerged to lead a draft ef­fort. Re­porters parsed the Demo­cratic Mas­sachusetts sen­a­tor’s ev­ery ut­ter­ance for clues to her plans. In the end, War­ren opted to pass. But so far, she hasn’t thrown her sup­port be­hind any of the can­di­dates.

With Pres­i­dent Obama un­likely to weigh in, War­ren is the most im­por­tant Demo­cratic elected of­fi­cial who has yet to en­dorse. Her iconic sta­tus among the party’s lib­eral grass roots, and the na­tional fundrais­ing base she com­mands, would de­liver a sub­stan­tial boost to Hil­lary Clin­ton, Bernie San­ders, or Martin O’Mal­ley.

San­ders would ap­pear to be the most ide­o­log­i­cally com­pat­i­ble choice for War­ren, be­cause his pop­ulist, anti-Wall Street rhetoric mir­rors her own. And in­deed, many of her sup­port­ers, in­clud­ing the founders of her draft move­ment, have em­braced him. But War­ren has been no­tice­ably re­luc­tant to lend her name to San­ders’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, be­cause, her ad­vis­ers say, she’s de­ter­mined that Democrats should hold on to the White House af­ter Obama leaves of­fice and is not con­vinced San­ders could win. “Her prime di­rec­tive is not to dam­age the party’s chances in Novem­ber,” says a close War­ren as­so­ciate who has dis­cussed the mat­ter with her.

Yet, while she signed a 2013 let­ter urg­ing Clin­ton to run, War­ren is the only fe­male Demo­cratic sen­a­tor who hasn’t backed the for­mer sec­re­tary of state. She was also the lone sen­a­to­rial no-show at the Clin­ton cam­paign’s Nov. 30 Women for Hil­lary rally near the Capi­tol. “Maybe she has a cold,” Mary­land Sen­a­tor Bar­bara Mikul­ski dead­panned at the time. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for War­ren, Clin­ton, and San­ders de­clined to com­ment.

War­ren isn’t be­ing en­tirely silent. She pe­ri­od­i­cally emerges to praise the ma­jor can­di­dates for es­pous­ing poli­cies she fa­vors. In De­cem­ber, the Clin­ton cam­paign was elated when War­ren took to Face­book to ap­plaud the can­di­date’s call to block rid­ers in the yearend bud­get bill that would have weak­ened fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tions. “Sec­re­tary Clin­ton is right to fight back against Repub­li­cans try­ing to sneak Wall Street give­aways into the must-pass govern­ment fund­ing bill,” War­ren wrote. “Whether it’s at­tack­ing the [Con­sumer Fi­nan­cial Pro­tec­tion Bureau], un­der­min­ing new rules to rein in un­scrupu­lous re­tire­ment ad­vis­ers, or rolling back any part of the hard-fought progress we’ve made on fi­nan­cial re­form, she and I agree: ‘Pres­i­dent Obama and con­gres­sional Democrats should do ev­ery­thing they can to

stop th­ese ef­forts.’ ” San­ders has gar­nered sim­i­lar ap­pro­ba­tion. On Jan. 6, War­ren un­leashed a tweet storm in sup­port of his speech on Wall Street re­form: “I’m glad @BernieSan­ders is out there fight­ing to hold big banks ac­count­able, make our econ­omy safer, & stop the GOP from rig­ging the sys­tem.”

War­ren’s al­lies ar­gue that she’s been able to shape the pri­mary race by cre­at­ing a sys­tem of in­cen­tives that has in­flu­enced can­di­date be­hav­ior. “There was al­most no oxy­gen in the room for big, struc­tural Wall Street re­form af­ter Dodd-Frank un­til War­ren came on the scene,” says Adam Green, co-founder of the Pro­gres­sive Change Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, a lib­eral group. “The fact that all three Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates are com­pet­ing with each other to have the bold­est plan for Wall Street re­form and ac­count­abil­ity—in­clud­ing ex­plic­itly call­ing for jail­ing Wall Street bankers who broke the law—is tes­ta­ment to War­ren’s loom­ing pres­ence and in­flu­ence in the Demo­cratic pri­mary.”

War­ren has ex­tracted some sig­nif­i­cant pol­icy com­mit­ments that will be dif­fi­cult for a fu­ture Demo­cratic pres­i­dent to break. In Au­gust, Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den met pri­vately with War­ren while con­sid­er­ing a pres­i­den­tial run. A week later, Clin­ton en­dorsed a bill that War­ren has cham­pi­oned re­strict­ing “golden para­chute” pay pack­ages for Wall Street bankers who take jobs with the fed­eral govern­ment—a de­vel­op­ment many lib­er­als took as a sign that Clin­ton feared los­ing War­ren’s sup­port to Bi­den.

Given the al­most Trump-like me­dia fix­a­tion with War­ren as re­cently as a year ago, it’s re­mark­able that she’s dis­ap­peared from the pres­i­den­tial race to the de­gree that she has. While it’s pos­si­ble that she will be able to main­tain her low pro­file un­til a nom­i­nee emerges, it’s also easy to en­vi­sion a sce­nario in which she is thrust right back into the middle of the race: Both Clin­ton and San­ders back­ers agree that if San­ders were to pre­vail in Iowa and New Hamp­shire, War­ren would come un­der in­tense pres­sure from both can­di­dates to de­liver an en­dorse­ment.

A few lib­er­als say there’s a sce­nario that could es­sen­tially yield two win­ners: Clin­ton, as the party’s nom­i­nee, and a greatly en­hanced San­ders, who would re­turn to the Se­nate with a celebrity and grass-roots fol­low­ing that might even eclipse War­ren’s own. “San­ders has gained stature and abil­ity to be more ef­fec­tive in the Se­nate,” says Jeff Hauser, who runs the Re­volv­ing Door Pro­ject, a group fo­cused on get­ting reg­u­la­tors ap­pointed who are skep­ti­cal of the in­dus­tries they over­see. “His abil­ity to get jour­nal­ists to write about his sen­a­to­rial agenda in 2017 will be a lot higher be­cause he’s run. So he’s ac­tu­ally be­come a lot like War­ren her­self, with big sway in the Se­nate. If he isn’t the nom­i­nee, he’ll be an even more ef­fec­tive ally for her in the fu­ture.”

It’s an added source of com­fort to the party’s War­ren wing—and a sil­ver lin­ing to the prospect of a San­ders loss—that the two most pow­er­ful Se­nate Democrats in a fu­ture Clin­ton pres­i­dency would be com­mit­ted lib­er­als. Says Charles Lench­ner, who co-founded Ready for War­ren and went on to es­tab­lish Peo­ple for Bernie: “Thank God the move­ment to break up the big banks isn’t re­stricted to sup­port­ers of one politi­cian or the other.”

The bot­tom line El­iz­a­beth War­ren’s en­dorse­ment will mean a big boost among Demo­cratic vot­ers for Clin­ton or San­ders.

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