Elizabeth Warren isn’t running for president, which raises the question: What does she want instead?
“Secretary of Treasury? Let that roll around in your brain a little bit,” said Larry Rasky, who was a spokesman for Vice President Joe Biden’s two presidential campaigns. “That would make Wall Street shudder.”
Warren-watching is becoming a sport in the nation’s capital, where the Massachusetts senator’s fundraising abilities combined with recent campaigning for colleagues are considered signposts of growing ambition. Though she has resisted calls by some fellow Democrats to challenge Hillary Clinton -- who is mulling a presidential race -- in the party’s 2016 primaries, Warren’s legislative record doesn’t suggest she’s settling in the Senate for the long term.
A New York Post report even suggested that President Barack Obama promised to support Warren if she entered the contest. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said today that he hadn’t read the story, and that Obama isn’t paying attention to the pre-2016 maneuvering.
In the first half of this year, Warren, 65, cemented her role as the party’s leading advocate for battling income inequality, publishing an autobiography that describes her humble Oklahoma roots. Her father was a maintenance man and her mother answered phones at a Sears store. While her family managed to “get by,” Warren wrote that “today the game is rigged -- rigged to work for those who have money and power.”
Now she’s trying to show that message can resonate beyond the anti-corporation wing of her party to economically stressed Republican voters. She’s appearing at rallies for Democratic candidates in states that Obama lost by double digits.
A Pew Research Center poll in June found that 71 percent of respondents categorized as “steadfast conservatives” agreed with the statement that “too much power is concentrated in the hands of a few large corporations.”
“On economic issues, much of her rhetoric is not that much different than Rand Paul,” said Jim Manley, a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, in a reference to the Republican Kentucky senator who is considering a White House bid. “It’s something I underestimated a little last year. I knew she could serve as an efficient fundraiser but she’s also proving to be an effective surrogate.”
The former Harvard Law School professor and her spokeswoman, Lacey Rose, didn’t respond to interview requests.
The senator has denied any interest in running for the White House in the next election -- even as ’Warren 2016’ bumper stickers crop up in parking lots at Democratic events. Options short of that include rising in the Senate or joining a future Democratic administration.
After serving as a senator, Warren might have better luck in clearing the appointment process for a top executive-branch post. She failed to do that in 2011, when Republican opposition prevented her from heading of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a watchdog agency she championed.
The CFPB, charged with protecting consumers in financial transactions, was the centerpiece of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, which sought to tighten regulation of Wall Street and prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis.
Warren and her supporters had pressured Obama to install her as the bureau’s first director. Instead, Obama asked her to help set up the agency and nominated Richard Cordray, the former attorney general of Ohio, as its permanent director in 2011. After an extended showdown with Republicans opposed to the new bureau, Cordray was confirmed in July 2013.
Warren left the consumer agency and won her Senate seat in November 2012 by defeating incumbent Republican Senator Scott Brown. A month later, she created a political action committee that has become one of the largest sources of cash for Democratic candidates looking for money from elected officials in this year’s midterm elections.
The PAC has given out more than $400,000 in contributions, including donating the maximum $10,000 to 17 candidates in the year’s 36 Senate races. She’s raised a total $733,000, with nearly half of contributors giving less than $200, according the Federal Election Commission records.
Warren traveled to Kentucky, a state Obama lost by 23 percentage points in 2012, to stump on June 29 with Democrat Alison Grimes. She is challenging Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in November’s election.
At a campaign rally at the University of Louisville, Warren attacked McConnell for blocking her legislation that would allow students to refinance education loans at lower rates.
“He’s been betting against you, vote after vote after vote, year after year after year,” she said.
On July 14, Warren is scheduled to go to West Virginia, which Obama lost by 27 points, to campaign with Democratic Senate candidate Natalie Tennant, the underdog in polls in a race for an open seat.
“You don’t go into those places by yourself. You go in because you’re asked and invited,” said Rasky, the former Biden spokesman. “The fact that she’s in demand is, in and of itself, a statement of her relevance to the national debate.”
Warren’s efforts to elevate her profile are part of an attempt to more effectively push her agenda, said Mary Anne Marsh, a Boston-based Democratic strategist. If Warren can show her message has appeal in states that lean Republican, it may make it easier for her to work with members of the other party in the Senate -- and perhaps the House, Marsh said.
Her legislative record so far includes two resolutions related to the bombings at the Boston Marathon last year and one congratulating the Boston Red Sox for winning professional baseball’s 2013 World Series.
She’s also co-sponsored with Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio a measure to help retired federal workers gain higher returns from savings, which passed a Senate panel last month.
The influence Warren wields nationally stems largely from her willingness to take on moneyed interests on issues including bank bailouts, the minimum wage and anti-pollution rules.
“Warren hasn’t been afraid to pick a fight. I think people really admire that,” said Marsh.
Still, the embrace of her national role means some constituent issues are left to the junior senator from Massachusetts -- Democrat Ed Markey, who won a special election last year and doesn’t harbor national ambitions.
“I don’t think anyone is going to call her ’the pothole senator’ from Massachusetts,” said Peter Forman, president of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce in Rockland, Massachusetts, who has met with her several times. “She is more focused on the macro effect of issues and policy.”
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