Warren energizes progressives in Michigan

Last modified: Tuesday, August 05, 2014
DETROIT — At a summertime getaway for liberals, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has captured the hearts of Democratic activists beginning to think about an heir to President Barack Obama. But their minds tell them that Hillary Rodham Clinton could help them hang onto the White House.

Warren, whose tough-on-Wall-Street message makes progressives swoon, received a rousing reception at the annual Netroots Nation summit on Friday, where people interrupted her fiery speech with chants of “Run, Liz, Run,” even though she has repeatedly denied interest in running for the president. Democratic fans of Warren said Clinton isn’t necessarily their preferred option — but probably their best shot.

“We’ve known Hillary since, really, 1991. There’s a sameness that works against her a little bit with the activist base,” said Kyle Tanner, 39, of Chicago. “But she’s mounted amazing electoral operations. There’s a huge advantage to that.”

Clinton remains a dominant figure as Democrats begin to consider the 2016 presidential campaign, which will begin in earnest after the fall midterm elections. Many liberals question Clinton’s ties to Wall Street and are seeking a fresh face, even though polls suggest the former secretary of state gives them their best chance of electing the nation’s first female president.

If Clinton runs, a major question will be whether she can energize what some call the “Elizabeth Warren wing” of the party, who volunteer for campaigns, donate money and helped power Obama to victory. A populist mood pervaded the meeting, with many activists urging punishment for Wall Street banks and steps to address income inequality. Others raised concerns that many of Obama’s promises — to reform immigration, address climate change and rebuild the economy — remain unfulfilled.

“If I had my choice, it’d be Elizabeth Warren,” said James Conlon, 40, a Seattle field organizer for National Education Association. “So many of the other folks like Hillary Clinton are a little bit too entrenched and they have too many big-money interests that have been supporting them.”

Warren sought to tamp down the presidential chatter, but her 17-minute speech sounded like a campaign call-to-arms, with vows to fight for tougher rules against Wall Street, for environmental protections and equal rights. To Warren, Wall Street and lobbyists represent the opposition.