Obama’s 2008 Backers: We’re Ready for Warren
She is, she insists, not interested, telling The Boston Globe, “There is no wiggle room. I am not running for president. No means no.”
But for the organizers behind Ready for Warren, the SuperPAC trying to draft the Massachusetts senator into the 2016 presidential race, the door remains open for a potential run. So the group is staffing up in key early primary states and raising money in what they say will be an all-out blitz after the midterm elections designed to show Warren that there is a groundswell of support behind her.
And if many of the organizers and early supporters of the Warren for President seemed unfazed by the notion that Hillary Clinton is an all-but inevitable Democratic nominee, perhaps that is because many of them have seen this process play out before—when they backed a previously unknown freshman senator from Illinois named Barack Obama who went on to topple the Clinton machine.
“I was in the Obama world,” said Erica Sagrans, who is helping lead the draft Warren effort and who served as northeast digital director of the Obama re-election campaign in 2012 after working for the pro-Obama outfit Organizing for America in 2009. “There are a lot of people in that world who are Warren fans, who really like Warren. But this is still a moment when people aren’t entirely comfortable coming forward.”
A number of veterans of Obama-world, however, are now out and proud Warren-ites. There is Kate Albright-Hanna, most recently a spokesperson for Zephyr Teachout’s upstart New York gubernatorial primary against Andrew Cuomo, and who joined the Obama effort way back in 2007 as the director of online video. Now she is preparing to take an as of yet undefined role with Ready for Warren.
“I am interested in building the progressive movement,” she said, citing a campaign continuum that stretched from Howard Dean in 2004, through Obama in 2008 and Teachout in 2014. “Getting involved in Elizabeth Warren is just continuing along that same branch. “
She said that the excitement around Warren now was similar to that around Obama in 2007.
“Before ‘change’ became such a cliché and everybody became disillusioned, there was a moment where people got excited and thought that we can actually change the way politics is conducted. We don’t have to be beholden to entrenched interests. All of that was epitomized in the early days of the Obama campaign, and there is the same sense now, that we don’t have to settle for what we have been given.”
As for Clinton, Albright-Hanna said, “We can’t go back to the 1990’s.”
Deborah Sagner raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Obama’s campaign. Now, she calls herself one of the “first funders” of the Warren effort, having donated $20,000 to Ready for Warren already.
“I have a history of not supporting Hillary Clinton that goes back to 2007,” Sagner said. “I have never been particularly inspired by her. And I was very inspired by Barack Obama.”
Sagner said that she was concerned that Clinton was too hawkish and close to Wall Street, but added a point repeated by many Warren supporters: that robust debate, and a spirited primary, is good for the Democratic Party.
“I think it is good for the Democratic Party to have a progressive wing that challenges business as usual.”
And if Warren seems like an unlikely upstart now, so did Obama at this time eight years ago.
“[That campaign] made me think that it’s possible that this could happen. There are some parallels. And these things can just catch on and get going.”
There are also, of course, several non-parallels. Clinton, for one thing, is in a far stronger position than she was in 2000, back when voters still remembered her husband’s administration for its scandals rather than for its economic record, and back when Hillary was still paying for her Iraq War vote. Early polling shows her with a commanding—if not outright prohibitive—lead among Democratic voters. Additionally, Ready for Hillary, the SuperPAC supporting her effort, has already raised $8 million, and the bulk of the Democratic establishment has signed on, including some of the party’s most well-known political operatives.
Ready for Warren, meanwhile, has raised between $50,-100,000 according to organizers, and although it’s still preparing to open offices in New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina, it has so far signed up a few hundred volunteers. But there are as of yet no prominent political supporters, and perhaps its most well-known advisor is Billy Wimsatt, a longtime progressive political activist and the author of the cult classic Bomb The Suburbs.
“This is an inside/outside effort,” said Sagrans “There are people that have connections and roots in the DC political world, and there are people that are grassroots activists around the country.”
The group, however, recently bombarded the Harkin Steak Fry in Iowa, where Hillary made what many observers saw as her triumphant return to the national political stage. They are in discussions with several polling firms, and are planning a nationwide night of phone-banking later this month on behalf of Senate candidates that Warren has endorsed. They know that 2016 activity is on hold until November, but are aware that once the midterms are over, the presidential primary process begins in earnest. And if Warren is to feel that there is support out there for her, than the Ready for Warren team has a very short window to show it.
This means kicking up their fundraising in a major way. The group has already hired Bulldog Finance Group, a fundraising outfit founded by Scott Dworkin, who served on Obama’s inaugural committee in 2009, and which is staffed by another vet of the Obama 2008 campaign.
“We are helping Ready for Warren with two main goals,” said Jerald Lentini, vice-president of the firm and a former staffer with the AFL-CIO. “The first is encouraging Elizabeth Warren to run for president, because she is absolutely the best progressive out there. And the second is to build an organization that can help Senator Warren win when she decides to run.”
But the early Warren supporters are not just pulled from the ranks of people who helped derail Clinton’s ambitions in 2008. Audrey Blondin served on Hillary’s campaign in Connecticut in 2008, and as the elected state Democratic committeewoman, also worked on the campaigns of such establishment figures as Al Gore and John Kerry.
“That was then. This is now,” she said. Blondin is a bankruptcy lawyer, like Warren, and has known her for decades. She held a house party for Ready for Warren over the summer, and said she was unswayed by the senator’s denials.
“I understand that she says she is not interested in running. I have been in politics 35 years. I know what happens. You think she is not watching what we are doing? Of course she is. And that is going to make a difference. It’s all about timing and she is in the right place at the right time with the right message. In a few months it is going to take off. She won’t be willing to buck the tide that is carrying her forward.”
And if she does buck that tide, it does not necessarily mean that it is end of the Warren for President boomlet. According to Daniel Buk, a political consultant who raised $40,000 for Obama in 2012 but has given $20,000 to Ready for Warren this year, there is already talk of keeping the group together through the 2020 election cycle.
“There is real excitement here,” Buk said. “And there is a real potential, should Senator Warren reveal her plans.”