Democrats stirred by grass-roots alternative to Clinton

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DETROIT — On the night before her Friday keynote address to a gathering of progressive activists here, Sen. Elizabeth Warren tried to slip into a hotel restaurant for a quiet dinner. But the former law professor has become a liberal superstar, and when a few admirers spotted her walking to the corner of the dining room, they cheered loudly. A moment later, more joined in the applause. Then one urged her, “Run for president!”

The next morning at Netroots Nation, where Ms. Warren, D-Mass., gave a fiery sermon for economic populism — “The game is rigged, and it isn’t right!” — scores of swooning supporters wore faux-straw boater hats with “Warren for President” stickers and chanted, “Run, Liz, run!”

Even as Hillary Rodham Clinton looms as the overwhelming favorite for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, the party’s base is stirring for a primary fight. There’s a pining for someone else, and a medley of ambitious Democrats are making moves — many of them previously unreported — to position themselves to perhaps be that someone.

In stark contrast to the overt maneuvering on the Republican side, the 2016 Democratic presidential sweepstakes has been largely frozen in place as Ms. Clinton decides whether to run. But with the former secretary of state’s book tour stumbles exposing her serious vulnerability with grass-roots voters, small cracks are starting to emerge.

The driving force behind the Democratic maneuvering is a yearning among progressives for a candidate who will champion their economic populist agenda. Anna Galland, executive director of the liberal group MoveOn.org, said income inequality will be the driving issue for the base, just as the Iraq war was in 2008. “Our members don’t want to see their preferred candidates going to give speeches to big Wall Street banks,” she said, a reference to Ms. Clinton’s paid speaking gigs, including one next week to a group of financiers in Boston. “They want to see them talking about inequality.”

Although Ms. Clinton turned down an invitation to Netroots, she has sought to seize on the issue in other venues. She began talking this spring about “the cancer of inequality” and told television host Charlie Rose on Thursday that if she runs, she would offer a detailed agenda “to tackle [economic] growth, which is the handmaiden of inequality.”

Vice President Joe Biden is making the rounds this summer rallying key Democratic constituencies and recently spoke on a conference call with his former aides — among the hundreds of Biden alumni that date back to his 1972 Senate campaign. The call was ostensibly just to say hello, but it keeps his political circle engaged. During a recent vacation in Kiawah Island, S.C., Mr. Biden reconnected with old political friends. He played golf with Dick Harpootlian, a former state party chairman, who suggested that Mr. Biden is far more “authentic” than Ms. Clinton.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar will test her folksy politics next month in Iowa, home to the first-in-the-nation caucuses. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is coming out this fall with a book, “Off the Sidelines,” that is part political memoir, part modern-feminist playbook and certain to generate presidential buzz. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also is publishing a memoir this fall with a wink-wink title: “All Things Possible.”

Meanwhile, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley seems to respond yes to every party speaking invitation that comes his way and is slated to address Democrats in Nebraska and Mississippi in coming weeks. He also endeared himself to liberals in recent days by breaking with President Barack Obama on how to deal with an influx of unaccompanied young immigrants along the border.

Itching to build a national network of his own, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is heading next month to Aspen, Colo., with Mr. O’Malley for a retreat for major party donors. Mr. Nixon, who has said he would back Ms. Clinton, also recently said the 2016 field could use a candidate from the heartland who, like himself, gives voice to blue-collar concerns but has red-state appeal.

Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., has teased the possibility of a long-shot challenge to Ms. Clinton with trips to Iowa and New Hampshire — both early-voting states — and plans to return to Iowa for three town hall meetings in September.

One Democrat who knows a thing or two about insurgent campaigns, former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, said he intends to huddle with California Gov. Jerry Brown at their upcoming Yale Law School reunion (class of 1964) to chat about the possibility of Mr. Brown‘‍s running for the White House. “Don’t rule out my law school classmate,” said Mr. Hart, who ran unsuccessfully for president in 1984 and 1988. “If you pay attention to his career, you see that he does very unexpected things.”

Mr. Hart added that Ms. Clinton is cautious “politically and personally, and in every way. I think her caution on Iraq cost her the nomination [in 2008]. She’s always trying to find the mythical center on controversial issues — and if you do that, someone else is going to take the bouquet for courage.”

Bill and Hillary Clinton are paying close attention to Ms. Warren’s rise, said former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, “but they are sagacious enough to understand that Elizabeth Warren couldn’t raise the money” to halt Ms. Clinton’s ascent.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean said he lost his presidential race in 2004 because Democrats “didn’t want to take a chance on the hellfire-and-brimstone guy.” Mr. Dean said he thinks history will repeat itself. “There will be a primary, and there is always grousing,” said Mr. Dean, who insists that he has no intention of running again. “But Hillary, who most Democrats believe has earned it and paid her dues, would have to totally implode in order for a grass-roots candidate to win the nomination.”

colorado - United States - North America - United States government - Pennsylvania - Barack Obama - Hillary Clinton - U.S. Department of State - Elizabeth Warren - Massachusetts - U.S. Democratic Party - Joe Biden - Edward Rendell - Iowa - Kirsten Gillibrand - Andrew Cuomo - Bernie Sanders - Jerry Brown - Amy Klobuchar - Jay Nixon - Martin O'Malley - Bruce Braley - Warren - Howard Dean - Gary Hart - Charlie Rose


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