MANCHESTER, N.H. – They gripped signs and took T-shirts with the words “Run Warren Run,” but the 50 Democratic activists who attended the New Hampshire kick-off of an organization hoping to persuade Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren to run for president came for different reasons.
Some had already publicly committed to Hillary Clinton, should she run again for president, but want Clinton to adopt a more populist message. Others said they like it when Warren speaks out on issues like income inequality but want to learn more about her personally before backing her as a presidential candidate. A handful were interested in a potential presidential bid from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont but wonder whether he is the best person to push a progressive message.
Almost all shared the belief that the state’s presidential primary debate should include a robust conversation on the issues that Warren cares about.
“We need a strong Democratic presidential primary here to help shape the national conversation,” said retired Manchester nurse Linda Garrish-Thomas, who supported Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary because she wanted a woman as president.
“To me, the issues and the message are more important than the personalities. If we don’t have a number of solid candidates, then there won’t be that discussion.”
This was the reason two of the nation’s largest liberal groups — Democracy for America and MoveOn.org — joined forces last month to persuade Warren to run for president. About 250,000 of their combined 9 million members have signed a petition asking Warren to run, and the groups have committed to spending $1.25 million to back the effort in Iowa and New Hampshire, the states where the presidential campaign begins.
Saturday’s event held at Waumbec Mill Building, a refurbished mill overlooking the Merrimack River, was a chance for the groups to gauge the energy on the ground and collect names of people willing to hold events in their home with neighbors.
To promote the event, the groups purchased full page ads in the Concord Monitor and New Hampshire Union Leader.
“Today we begin to pave the path, brick by brick, to the day we can say presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren,” said Victoria Kaplan, lead campaign director for MoveOn.org.
Three New Hampshire field staffers began to work for the Run Warren Run effort on Thursday, including a junior level staffer from Democratic New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s 2014 reelection campaign. They will work with a more experienced state director, who has yet to be hired. There are plans to hold a “national house party” Jan. 31.
For her part, Warren has consistently said she is not running for president.
Paul Twomey, state legal counsel for Barack Obama’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012, takes Warren at her word. He publicly committed more than a year ago to Clinton, should she run in 2016. He attended the Saturday event nonetheless.
“Events like this one are important because I hope that it ensures that protecting the middle class is the top issue for Clinton and everyone else running for president,” Twomey said. “But I come here believing Warren when she says she is not running.”
Melinde Byrne of Bedford came believing that if enough people showed up to events like this one that Warren would change her mind and run.
“[Warren] is the only candidate speaking to the issues that we need to talk about,” said Byrne, who is particularly interested in identity theft issues.
Former state representative Chris Muns of Hampton, who ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate last year, said he was not fully committed to Warren or any candidate but drove 45 minutes to the event to learn more.
For state Representative Marcia Moody, a Newmarket Democrat, attending Saturday’s event was a statement against Clinton.
“A lot of the excitement in this room is from people who think that Clinton can change and take up this cause, but she is fundamentally a person for Wall Street and not the people,” said Moody, who noted that Clinton once served on the board of Walmart.
Joining the few state legislators in the crowd were labor activists and past supporters of Obama and former Vermont governor Howard Dean in previous presidential primaries. There were also some from the inner circle of former US representative Carol Shea-Porter’s political organization, including Mark Mitchell of Barrington and Caroline French of Dover. When Shea-Porter first ran for the US House in 2006, she won the seat on the campaign slogan of being for the “99 percent rest of us.”
State Representative Renny Cushing of Hampton, who also attended Saturday’s event, was 16 when he worked on his first New Hampshire presidential primary campaign for Gene McCarthy in 1968.
“In that campaign no one believed that by going door to door and organizing in events like this that we could defeat an incumbent president and send a message to the country and the world.
That magic is what we want to re-create with Warren,” Cushing said. “But we obviously need a critical mass of people to support her to get this thing going.”James Pindell can be reached at James.Pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell.