Run Warren Run’s Des Moines office opening Thursday evening felt like many other caucus campaign launches. Excited supporters gathered to see how they can help. Staff and volunteers shared their moving stories of why they supported the candidate. A wish list of office supplies hung on the wall. Volunteers stuck around afterwards to make calls. Of course, there was one major campaign component missing: a candidate.
So it goes with draft movements, though this one features a candidate who has often said she’s not running. Senator Elizabeth Warren, the populist progressive that’s taking the fight to Wall Street has struck a chord among liberal activists in a way not seen since Howard Dean. She’s developed a widespread following around the country, with many progressives believing she could harness the national backlash to the economic meltdown with a run for president. That’s what made the Run Warren Run Iowa kick-off back in December feel a little off.
National liberal organizations MoveOn.org and Democracy for America (Dean’s old group) joined forces to create this draft movement designed to push Warren toward a presidential run. At their well-attended December rally in Des Moines the stage was filled with national MoveOn and DFA leaders. True, they had several Iowans tell their stories, but it was mostly a DC crowd that had flown to Iowa to launch a grass-roots movement. State Senate President Pam Jochum spoke, though she then told a Register reporter she was undecided on her pick for president.
That all has led to chattering among Iowa Democrats over how authentic this particular movement is. Some believe it’s a list-building exercise for MoveOn. Others think they just need a prominent Iowa face to boost their profile. A handful of top Democratic staffers and consultants were in the crowd at the December event. None of them were at the opening last night.
That being said, Run Warren Run has begun building a statewide field operation, and they had many Warren fans join them last night. About 30 enthusiastic supporters, along with another dozen staff and press, attended the meeting. The crowd was a mix of young and old, with many new faces and a handful of seasoned activists. The operation has hired five Iowa staff so far, several of which have good Iowa campaign experience.
“There’s a real hunger from Iowans to have a conversation about income inequality and working families,” said Blair Lawton, who oversees the Iowa operation. They’ve been working through lists from MoveOn and DFA to recruit supporters, with Lawton explaining, “Right now it’s really focused on activating the ones we got.” He noted that many of their one-on-ones this week are with people who signed up online that haven’t been too involved in politics before.
This weekend Warren backers around the state will host eleven house parties to build teams of volunteers. Those volunteers will reach out to their personal networks, call through the group’s lists of prospects, and write postcards encouraging Warren to run. A strong social media presence, along with staff visiting progressive and Democratic party meetings will supplement their field efforts.
The question about all of these well-intentioned activities, however, is how long will it go on? Warren has said multiple times she’s not running. Do you stop after she says it five more times? Ten? “Right now there’s not really a timeline,” Lawton said. “We’re completely focused on our goal of showing her the support she has across the state and that there’s a great path to victory if she wants to get in.” The sincerity of MoveOn’s desire to see Warren run is certainly real – she would highlight all of the progressive issues they’ve been advocating for for years. And their Iowa staff is hard at work on a worthy endeavor. But what’s the end goal here?
Many will argue that even if she doesn’t run, Run Warren Run is still activating a progressive network of volunteers that can help Democrats and the progressive movement, and there’s certainly truth to that. On the other hand, there’s another strong progressive, Senator Bernie Sanders, who actually is seriously considering a presidential run. A draft Warren movement could overshadow Sanders’ campaign and make it harder for him to get attention.
All in all, the effort to recruit Warren seems like a fine undertaking – for a while. And who knows, maybe Senator Warren will be impressed by the outpouring of support around the country, decide she does have a shot against Hillary Clinton, and jumps in. But if Run Warren Run is still around after March or April, and actual Warren is still saying no, you get to a point where it’s not helping anyone anymore. They’ve pledged a 100% positive campaign, and that’s good. But getting a bunch of Democrats revved up for a candidate who won’t run just makes the eventual nominee a second- or third-choice for many. They’ll almost all still vote for him/her, but will they volunteer with the same passion and energy? There’s a lot of enthusiasm among the progressive base right now. Hopefully they find what they’re looking for in this election.