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
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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