WASHINGTON — Senator Elizabeth Warren and former governor Mitt Romney share little ground politically, but lately they have been repeating a common refrain: No.
Both insist — repeatedly — they have no intention of running for president in 2016. And given the half-century of failure of presidential aspirants from Massachusetts, perhaps that is the prudent course.
But those facts don’t matter to activists in both parties, who, hungering for alternatives to the current crop of potential 2016 candidates, are persistently trying to prod the reluctant contenders into the fray. With a widespread feeling that the current 2016 field is lacking, these supporters cite a longing for someone newer and more exciting (in the case of liberal Democrats and Warren) or someone older and more tested (in the case of establishment Republicans and Romney).
Some Republicans are unwilling to believe Romney’s repeated denials of interest, his insistence that his fizzled hopes in 2008 and his bitter defeat of 2012 were enough. To stand down, they will need to hear corroboration from his wife — the motivating force behind his past campaigns.
“Until Ann Romney looks me in the eye and says, ‘Jason, it’s not going to happen. Let’s stop doing that,’ I think there’s a remote possibility it might happen,” said Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican and longtime Romney supporter.
“Mitt has said 100 times he’s not going to do it. I don’t think he could be any more clear,” he added. “But if there’s a void and a strong consensus we can win, I think he does it.”
The calls for Warren to run for the Democratic nomination reached a fevered pitch last week as she continued to campaign on behalf of Senate candidates around the country. After earlier trips to Minnesota, Oregon, Kentucky, and West Virginia, she arrived in Michigan to stump Thursday and then appear Friday before a lively bunch of liberal activists in Detroit.
“I’m going to give you the same answer I have given you many times,” she told the Globe in an interview. “There is no wiggle room. I am not running for president. No means no.”
Yet liberal Democrats and the media won’t drop the idea of a Warren presidential campaign, including a potential primary bid against Hillary Clinton. A new group aimed at drafting Warren for an underdog candidacy, called Ready for Warren, announced its formation last week. Following her trip to Detroit, the group released a gauzy online music video — complete with acoustic guitar strumming and scenes from the conference.
That immediately triggered national news, even though Warren distanced herself from the organization, which lacks the deep-pocketed donors and longtime political advisers of a pro-Clinton outfit called Ready for Hillary.
CNN repeatedly played clips last Wednesday about Ready for Warren — and asked, with an image of Clinton and Warren staring at each other, “Could Elizabeth Warren defeat Hillary Clinton?”
The network brought out a string of pundits to comment on the prospect — as remote as it may be.
“I think she will be an extremely attractive candidate for Democratic voters in 2016,” Representative Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican who ran for president in 2012 as a hero of Tea Party voters, said on CNN. “If I was Mrs. Clinton, I would be extremely concerned with what I see.”
Warren is also now drawing scrutiny from well-funded Republican opposition research groups. America Rising PAC, which has been throwing mud at Clinton, is now adding Warren to its target list, digging into her background and sending video trackers to her events.
“Don’t let the White House fall into Warren’s hands,” the group’s director, Tim Miller, wrote in a fund-raising e-mail to supporters last week. “Please help us stop her by contributing.”
Clinton has said she will make a decision by early 2015 on whether to run. If she opts against a bid, Democrats close to Warren say that she would almost certainly consider running, as would a long line of others, including Vice President Joe Biden.
“Elizabeth Warren, there’s no doubt right now, is considered a darling of the hard-core progressive left. It’s an important part of the party,” David Plouffe, a former senior White House adviser and top Democratic strategist, said in a recent interview. “Obviously Hillary Clinton right now would be the strongest front-runner . . . but if Hillary Clinton doesn’t run, I’m sure [Warren] will and should take a hard look.”
A Gallup poll released last Thursday found that only 38 percent of Americans had any opinion about Warren, positive or negative, compared with 91 percent for Clinton — reflecting the fact that she is still a relative unknown. Among those surveyed, 21 percent had a favorable view and 17 percent had an unfavorable view of Warren; 55 percent had a favorable view of Clinton, while 36 percent had an unfavorable view.
Massachusetts has long been a breeding ground for presidential candidates, offering a major contender, including two nominees, in every election since 2000. It is the only state to have four separate men win their party’s nomination in the last half century. But since John F. Kennedy’s victory in 1960, the other three party nominees — Michael Dukakis in 1988, John Kerry in 2004, and Romney in 2012 — have all lost.
“It’s a tribute to the quality of politics and politicians in Massachusetts that there is a focus on Elizabeth Warren or Mitt Romney,” said Senator Edward J. Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat. “But Elizabeth has made it very clear that she has no intention to run.”
The reason for the interest in Romney is fueled largely by an early Republican field filled with candidates viewed as potentially flawed for one reason or another.
New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, is again trying to test the presidential waters. But he has been damaged by a scandal — and ongoing investigations — involving lane closures near the George Washington Bridge.
Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who is the son and brother of former presidents, has seemed uncertain about whether he has the stomach to endure a brutal presidential campaign. Other potential candidates who could win establishment support — including Louisiana’s governor, Bobby Jindal; Texas’ governor, Rick Perry; and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida — have yet to catch hold. Senator Rand Paul, of Kentucky, has been trying to broaden his reach beyond libertarian and Tea Party activists.
Most in Romney’s inner circle consider the notion of a third presidential campaign absurd. A common political parlor game these days is guessing who among his allies is stoking rumors that he will consider joining the primary race.
His close advisers insist he is enjoying his perch as his party’s elder statesman and his more laid-back life (a few days ago, he was on a 13-mile hike in the Grand Canyon with his wife and members of his family).
“The speculation is wild,” said one former top adviser. “I just don’t get the impression that he’s even thinking about it. He’s just really happy. It’s not even fathomable in my mind.”
“I haven’t talked to him about it,” said another former adviser. “I’m not being coy. I talked to him recently and it didn’t come up. I sure don’t bring it up.”
Another longtime adviser said that while Romney is enjoying the renaissance in interest, he is not actively considering getting back into politics.
“If Jeb didn’t run, Christie fell apart, and the Midwestern governors didn’t run — and then Haley Barbour, Jeb Bush, and the pope came to him and said, ‘You have to run’ — could he be convinced?” the adviser said. “Maybe.”
And yet? A “Draft Mitt” group formed almost immediately after he lost the 2012 election, and now has 65,000 online signatures. One poll showed that he would win if there were another election between him and Obama. Another poll had him with a commanding lead over potential Republican presidential candidates in New Hampshire.
“The unavailable is always the most attractive, right?” Romney told reporters last month. “That goes in dating as well.”