WASHINGTON -- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) isn’t running for president. And one of the main groups created to encourage her to run for president will soon stop running, too.
Run Warren Run, the collaborative effort by progressive organizations to show Warren that she had supporters, commitment and money for a 2016 presidential bid, will suspend operations on June 8. Time, political winds, and, in all likelihood, Bernie Sanders were the culprits.
“Over the last six months, from our perspective, the possibility of Warren running has had a transformative effect on the political debate in that it has elevated Warren’s fight into something more than moment to moment legislative battles,” said Ben Wikler, Washington director of MoveOn.org, one of the groups behind Run Warren Run. “Do we wish she were running? Absolutely. Do we wish we had not tried to get her to run? Not in the slightest.”
In some respects, the Run Warren Run campaign exhibited the same promises and risks that the Democratic Party at large assumes in this cycle -– placing enormous hope in a singular figure.
From the outset, however, the Warren group's odds were worse than the party’s, if only because Warren had signed a letter encouraging former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to run. For that reason alone, corners of the progressive universe viewed Run Warren Run skeptically, arguing that it compromised Warren’s leverage. The harsher critics deemed it a cynical effort to collect email addresses.
Run Warren Run kept chugging along. MoveOn and Democracy for America invested $1.25 million in staff, office space and resources to encourage Warren into the race. They commissioned polling, ran signature-gathering campaigns, and recruited state legislators and party leaders. More than 400 events were held. Upward of 365,000 people signed a petition. Undoubtedly, they affected several debates along the way, helping Warren submarine President Barack Obama’s nomination of Antonio Weiss, a Wall Street banker, to be a top ranking Treasury Department official, and encouraging lawmakers to support the expansion of Social Security.
In the end, reality intervened. Warren never stopped deflecting presidential talk, and Run Warren Run was forced to reconsider its investments.
“The question was how are we going to have the biggest effect?” said Wikler. “Was it going from 90 counties to 91 counties to convince Senator Warren that it was the time to run for president?” They decided, he said, that “our members and energy could have a better impact going from advocating to Senator Warren to alongside Senator Warren.”
Run Warren Run will deliver that 365,000-person petition to Warren, asking her to reconsider one last time. The 13 paid staffers (nine full time) in Iowa and New Hampshire will be helped finding new employment. The offices will close.
“MoveOn’s engagement in the 2016 primary process is likely to look more like ‘07 and ‘08, where we engage with the candidates around the issues our members prioritize,” said Wikler, citing trade, money in politics, Wall Street reform, and student loan debt as top agenda items.
In switching from a candidate-focused strategy to an issues-focused one, Run Warren Run is falling short of its central, defining, namesake goal.
But the side-victories are large enough to hang a few hats. The Democratic presidential field has, Wikler said, moved in the very direction that a Warren candidacy, even in the abstract, personified. And he insisted it’s not just because primaries draw politicians to their respective bases. Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley all have exhibited or begun to exhibit an “unapologetically” progressive approach. Style, in other words, is matching the substance.
It would unfair, however, to put all the candidates on equal footing. Though Wikler was diplomatic in the interview, it’s clear that Clinton still faces something of a trust deficit with progressives. By contrast, Sanders is an object of adoration. It’s no coincidence that several people involved in the Run Warren Run effort are now on Sanders' staff. Asked specifically if it would be quitting if Sanders hadn’t taken off, Wikler took more than 25 seconds to respond.
“I think [we'd keep going] if we hadn’t seen an entire field of candidates speaking to the central economic issues of a system rigged by the powerful,” Wikler said.
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