Staying out of the 2016 presidential race won’t erase the shadow that Elizabeth Warren already casts on it. Or, at least not until the Massachusetts senator endorses Hillary Clinton.
That, however, has done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of Clinton loyalists in the Bay State. They can’t wait for Hillary to announce another presidential bid.
“I’m so ready for Hillary,” said Barbara Lee, a founding member of Ready for Hillary, the political action committee behind a 2016 Clinton campaign. In fact, the PAC is so eager for the next phase, it sent out an e-mail more than a month ago reminding supporters of unfulfilled pledges as it winds down operations in anticipation of a Clinton announcement.
Lee may be ready for Hillary, but of course she loves Warren, too. As head of the Cambridge-based Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which studies gender politics, she said she finds the talk about more than one woman running for president “absolutely thrilling.” Naturally, that thrill comes with the understanding that another Democratic woman won’t be challenging Clinton. “She seems to be very clear she is not going to run,” said Lee of Warren.
Massachusetts is ground zero for the tension between the populists who love Warren and the pragmatists who support Clinton. In that spirit, it mirrors the struggle between Clinton and Barack Obama in 2008.
After Obama won the Iowa caucus, a street fight broke out in the Granite State. After Clinton eked out a New Hampshire victory — with help from Massachusetts activists who poured over the border as well as from female voters — that fracas spilled into Massachusetts. The Massachusetts primary, which Clinton also won, didn’t attract the same national attention. But it was all-out warfare between the Bay State’s top Democrats — with then Governor Deval Patrick and the late Ted Kennedy on Obama’s side, and then-Mayor Thomas Menino and many Beacon Hill lawmakers in Clinton’s camp.
If the same thing happened again in 2016, the media certainly wouldn’t mind. But no one in the Clinton camp wants a replay of 2008 next year, especially one that features two smart, tough women. Clinton versus Warren may never happen at the polls, but a shadow primary is already underway.
There’s no love lost between these two women. The Clintons don’t like to be pushed into a corner, and Warren has been doing just that. Like it or not, the Clintons have to take it, in Massachusetts and across the country.
Bay State Democrats provide two very important ingredients to a presidential campaign — money and political activism. When enthusiasm for a candidate is high, both flow. When enthusiasm ebbs, both suffer. To keep enthusiasm high, Clinton must reach out to Warren and woo her female fans.
Take, for example, Cheryl Cronin, a strong presence in Democratic politics here. During the 2008 presidential primary season, Cronin picked Obama over Clinton. She’s also a Warren backer. (Cronin hosted at her Back Bay home the meeting last December between Warren and top Boston donors that made headlines when Warren used the event to criticize Obama’s choice for treasury.
Today, Cronin is ready for Hillary. Sort of.
“All of us who enthusiastically support Elizabeth do so because of her depth of understanding and commitment to advancing real policies and actions that impact people’s lives in a positive way,” said Cronin. “We also so admire her political courage as we see her sometimes buck her fellow Democrats. I believe that Elizabeth’s priorities can and will influence Hillary as she begins her campaign.”
And Warren’s priorities are already influencing Clinton’s rhetoric. She’s focusing more on middle-class values and income equality issues — or at least trying. The controversy over how she kept her e-mails on a private server while serving as secretary of state is currently dominating the news. She’s going to have to figure out a better way to address it, even as the Ready for Hillary crowd tries to dismiss it as a distraction.
Lee, in fact, views the flap as a typical ploy to “knock a woman off her pedestal.” Indeed, the Barbara Lee Family Foundation will be partnering with the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University to undertake a “presidential gender watch” for 2016. It will call out sexism when it sees it, said Lee.
The problem: If Warren’s the critic, in the shadows or not, no one can call it out as sexist.