WASHINGTON — Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton keeps in occasional touch with Senator Elizabeth Warren. The most recent phone chat centered on a topic Warren holds dear: pressuring Wall Street bankers.
Warren thanked Clinton for writing an op-ed arguing that Democrats needed to fight off Republican efforts to water down regulations on the financial services industry, Clinton recalled. And Clinton wished Warren a Happy 2016 — a subtle reminder that it’s an election year, and Warren’s endorsement would be a boon to Clinton’s 2016 presidential candidacy.
The two have a “very good relationship,” Clinton said this week. But as she slips in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire to Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the political world is asking: Is there enough of a bond for Warren to join every other female Senate Democrat in endorsing Clinton?
“It’s a scramble for the Elizabeth Warren endorsement,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist with Washington-based QGA Public Affairs and a Clinton surrogate. “If and when it happens, it will provide a sign of respect from the left.”
Warren is one of the few national figures who carry real sway with Democratic base voters. Only President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have similar currency, he said.
But endorsing Clinton at this point poses some risk for Warren, whose power on the national stage comes from the same army of base Democrats who are backing Sanders. She’s repeatedly said that she will endorse somebody in the Democratic primary. If indeed she does plan to give her nod to Clinton, the politically safer moment would be if or when Sanders is no longer a viable candidate.
The notion of Hillary Clinton seeking an endorsement from Massachusetts’ senior senator is somewhat reminiscent of 2008, when Clinton and Obama courted a different Bay State senator: Edward M. Kennedy.
In that case, former president Bill Clinton applied a great deal of pressure, according to “Game Change,” a book about the 2008 election.
The tactic didn’t work, and Kennedy lent his name to Obama.
By all accounts, Team Clinton is taking a more subtle approach this time.
Though Warren has had “several” conversations directly with Clinton, she speaks far more regularly with Clinton’s campaign chief financial adviser Gary Gensler, a former Goldman Sachs banker who’s embraced by financial reformers because of his previous role as the head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
There are signs that Clinton is responding to Warren’s influence.
The Democratic front-runner backed legislation that would prevent banks from paying bonuses to former executives who migrate to government jobs, which would slow the revolving door between Wall Street and key regulatory agencies.
Warren used her July 17 speech to the liberal confab Netroots Nation to call on all of the Democratic presidential candidates to back the bill.
As Clinton drew up her education plan, she appeased Warren by making a point of reaching out to a number of liberal think tanks for ideas. That included Demos, based in New York. Warren’s daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, chairs Demos’s board of directors.
Tyagi didn’t respond to a call for comment.
Still, Warren is holding out. Most notably she skipped a Washington fund-raiser last November held in honor of Clinton that was attended by the other 13 Senate Democratic women.
Some of Warren’s colleagues in the Senate are expressing impatience.
“I think it would be important,” Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, said in an interview with CNN this week about Warren endorsing Clinton. “I think it would be helpful.”
Clinton has been publicly noncommittal about what role Warren would play in her administration if she became president.
“I would certainly look forward to partnering with her when I was in the White House and she continued to be a national leader on all of these issues,” Clinton told the Globe editorial board.
What about a Cabinet position?
“I think it’s bad luck to speculate on any vice presidential nominees, Cabinet positions, or any of that — I’m not counting any chickens before anything hatches,” Clinton said. “But she can do anything. I would support her for anything.”
Sanders, on the other hand, pointed out he’s close to Warren when asked in a television interview whom he would pick as vice president.
“Elizabeth Warren is a very good friend of mine, I have known her for a long time, before she was in the Senate,” Sanders said.
Warren and Clinton haven’t known each other for a long time. Their terms in the Senate never overlapped. Clinton was secretary of state when Warren ran for office and therefore didn’t have the option to campaign or raise money for her run.
By Warren’s account, the two first met in Boston on May 1, 1998. It was a packed day for Clinton, then first lady, who started in Washington, touched down in the Bay State, and then flew to Palo Alto, Calif.
The two discussed legislation before Congress to overhaul the nation’s bankruptcy laws. Warren, then a Harvard law professor and consumer champion, opposed the overhaul.
After the meeting, Warren followed up with at least two letters to Clinton, who was sympathetic to Warren’s view. In both cases, Warren provided additional briefing material about the country’s bankruptcy laws.
Later, when Clinton changed her position after her New York Senate election and voted for the bankruptcy bill in 2001, Warren accused Clinton of bowing to the pressures from her financial industry donors.
But the relationship improved by 2007, when Warren was meeting with senators and their staffs to lay the groundwork for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
“I was somebody who early on called for a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,” Clinton said, “and fully supported her efforts to get that done when she was in the Senate.”
Elizabeth Warren’s name only comes up three times in the four years of Clinton e-mails that have been released by the State Department. In each instance, it appeared in a news story sent to Clinton.
But, by the time Clinton left that post and was gearing up for a presidential run, it was clear that she was thinking about Warren.
Clinton praised Warren when the two appeared on stage together in October 2014 to campaign for Martha Coakley, who was running for governor in Massachusetts. Two months later, the pair met privately in Clinton’s Washington, D.C., home.
And in April of last year, after Warren made it clear she wasn’t gong to run for president, Clinton offered more kind words for Warren — in the pages of Time Magazine.
“Elizabeth Warren never lets us forget that the work of taming Wall Street’s irresponsible risk-taking and reforming our financial system is far from finished,” Clinton wrote. “And she never hesitates to hold powerful people’s feet to the fire: bankers, lobbyists, senior government officials and, yes, even presidential aspirants.”