What’s the Point of the Draft Elizabeth Warren Movement?

The liberal favorite is already building a booming political machine, while the brand-new Ready for Warren group starts from scratch—without her approval.

Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren checks out the podium the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC.
National Journal
Scott Bland
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Scott Bland
July 24, 2014, 1 a.m.

The reas­on Ready for Hil­lary ex­ists, and the reas­on nu­mer­ous people who are con­nec­ted to Hil­lary Clin­ton have en­dorsed it, is simple: The su­per PAC is build­ing a sellable list of sup­port­ers of the former sec­ret­ary of State, who doesn’t have a form­al polit­ic­al op­er­a­tion to do pre­lim­in­ary work for a 2016 pres­id­en­tial cam­paign.

That raises the ques­tion: Why is Ready for War­ren, the new group launched with much fan­fare to per­suade Sen. Eliza­beth War­ren of Mas­sachu­setts to run for pres­id­ent, even ne­ces­sary, when War­ren already has a well-fin­anced polit­ic­al op­er­a­tion un­der her dir­ect con­trol?

Draft groups have been around as long as polit­ics, but the ones pop­ping up in the su­per PAC era have the abil­ity to raise big bucks while ap­pro­pri­at­ing their favored can­did­ates’ name. (Asked about the group named after her, War­ren told ABC, “I do not sup­port this.”) And while it will take time to judge Ready for War­ren’s ef­forts, draft groups are not guar­an­teed to help the can­did­ates they sup­port, even as they of­ten help the strategists and vendors work­ing for them.

“Our main goal is to show her she has the sup­port and there’s a lot of mo­mentum around it,” Ready for War­ren cam­paign man­ager Erica Sagrans said. “People do want her to run “¦ we feel our job is to cap­ture that and or­gan­ize it.”

The thing is, War­ren her­self already has the tools to cap­ture and or­gan­ize sup­port­ers. Nearly 1 mil­lion people fol­low her on Face­book. War­ren has an act­ive web­site where people can sign up for email up­dates or donate money, even though she isn’t up for reelec­tion. And the money—each dona­tion from a sup­port­er whose name and oth­er data are me­tic­u­lously tracked—con­tin­ues to flood in: The War­ren cam­paign raised about $300,000 in the second quarter of 2014, while her lead­er­ship PAC, an­oth­er fun­drais­ing tool, had its best quarter ever, bring­ing in $600,000.

Put to­geth­er, War­ren’s com­mit­tees raised more than a touted Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate can­did­ate (West Vir­gin­ia’s Nat­alie Ten­nant) run­ning this year, a test­a­ment to the ex­cite­ment War­ren pro­vokes among the Demo­crat­ic grass­roots.

Ready for War­ren would chan­nel re­sources else­where, which Sagrans says is ne­ces­sary at this point. “Our goal is to push her to run,” Sagrans said. “Giv­ing money to her is not ex­pli­cit about” that goal.

What Ready for War­ren and oth­er draft groups can do is openly talk about a pres­id­en­tial run and get people think­ing about it while War­ren her­self re­peats, “I am not run­ning for pres­id­ent” end­lessly.

“Her polit­ic­al ma­chinery is not ur­ging her­self to run for pres­id­ent,” Sagrans con­tin­ued. “”¦ We’re more ex­pli­cit about her run­ning for pres­id­ent as op­posed to just for­ti­fy­ing or build­ing her base. We want to do that, but we want to do it in a way that talks about her as a po­ten­tial can­did­ate.”

The fact is, though, the ini­tial be­ne­fi­ciar­ies of a draft group are not can­did­ates; they’re the people the draft group is pay­ing. If Hil­lary Clin­ton runs for pres­id­ent, her cam­paign will likely be able to buy or lease the sup­port­er list gen­er­ated by Ready for Hil­lary’s mil­lions in spend­ing for a frac­tion of the pro­duc­tion cost. But if Clin­ton doesn’t, the $8 mil­lion-plus that Ready for Hil­lary has already raised—us­ing Clin­ton’s name and the hopes as­so­ci­ated with it—will simply have gone to the group’s vendors and staff.

The Na­tion­al Draft Ben Car­son for Pres­id­ent Com­mit­tee, which seeks to per­suade the con­ser­vat­ive phys­i­cian to run in 2016, has dir­ec­ted about 90 per­cent of its spend­ing back in­to fun­drais­ing for it­self. That means a lot of the money raised by sev­er­al dir­ect-mail firms work­ing for the PAC goes right back to them, to send more mail. The group has raised $7.2 mil­lion since last sum­mer.

Whatever the costs of the Car­son PAC’s buildup ef­forts, cam­paign dir­ect­or Ver­non Robin­son says it’s all go­ing to­ward a valu­able re­source: a mo­bil­ized, item­ized or­gan­iz­a­tion of Car­son fol­low­ers that the doc­tor, who doesn’t have his own polit­ic­al com­mit­tee, doesn’t have. “Build­ing the or­gan­iz­a­tion, col­lect­ing pe­ti­tions, and also build­ing our house list: that’s the three ob­ject­ives,” Robin­son said. “Dir­ect mail, on­line fun­drais­ing, ma­jor-donor fun­drais­ing achieves those ob­ject­ives. So if you’re achiev­ing your three ob­ject­ives, you’re do­ing what you’re sup­posed to be do­ing.”

“If this was a scam,” Robin­son con­tin­ued, “I’d be in South­ern Texas or South­ern Flor­ida or South­ern Cali­for­nia in Janu­ary, not Iowa.” Robin­son spent 37 days in the Hawkeye State drum­ming up sup­port for Car­son in Decem­ber and Janu­ary.

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