Elizabeth Warren wants you to know that she really isn’t planning to run for president. She said so in an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep last month, when she repeated at least four times, “I am not running for president.” She told the same thing to The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus: “I am not running. I think I am being definitive.” And when Fortune asked her in January: “No.”
Her supporters are not convinced. In a promotional video for Run Warren Run, a group dedicated to getting Warren on the 2016 presidential ballot, the senator is shown being asked the same question—but the scene cuts before she can answer the usual no. This Sunday, just hours before the Super Bowl, more than 20 people trickled into a windowless basement room of Washington, D.C.’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. Like more than 200 other meetings that convened across the country through Run Warren Run, the group strategized how to convince the Massachusetts senator to say yes.
“I’ve heard questions before, like, ‘I heard that she’s not running,’” one of the organizers, who asked to go only by his first name, Carl, said. “But they all say they’re not going to run before they run.” For many in the room, it’s Warren’s hesitance to self-promote that has won her so much respect.
Though the organizers asked participants to avoid trash-talking Clinton, Carl opened the meeting by calling for more than “a coronation” in the Democratic primary. Participants said that the sense of Clinton’s inevitability was a threat to the democratic process, and described Clinton as “Republican lite,” “in the pocket of big business,” and “completely unacceptable.” Zephyr Williams, a graduate student at American University, explained her wariness with establishment politicians. “I can imagine it’s difficult to avoid selling out when you’ve been in politics for as long as Hillary has,” she said, underlining what many in the group saw as Warren’s key strength as an outsider to politics. Others criticized Clinton for her hawkish foreign policy and support amongst Wall Street bankers.
Participants praised Warren as a “fighter” for the middle class, waging war against Wall Street even at the expense of her own party. Many progressives cheered for Warren when she scuttled President Obama's renomination of former Lazard banker Antonio Weiss to a top Treasury Department post. Warren's bill to help students refinance their loans, which was blocked in the Senate in September, also placed her on the radar screens of many young Democrats. Part of the Run Warren Run's strategy is to raise awareness of the senator, since many voters aren't as familiar with Warren as they are with Clinton. "To know Elizabeth Warren is to love her," said one meeting attendee.
So far, polls have shown Clinton far outpacing any other Democratic challengers in the polls, and Politico reported that the frontrunner is considering delaying her campaign, since her campaign sees no serious contender in the ranks. But in September, a WSJ/NBC poll found that only 43 percent of voters viewed Clinton favorably, compared to 41 percent who had negative views. In the Run Warren Run meeting, a retired teacher named Jeanne Castro said that she felt torn between voting for Clinton and Obama in the 2008 presidential primary. Castro wanted to vote for Clinton because she wanted to see a woman in the White House, but “Hillary never moved me,” she said. “Warren, she touched me.”
In a November poll conducted by the progressive organization Democracy for America, Warren emerged as the favored candidate with 42 percent, beating out Clinton by 19 percentage points. But among those who showed up for the Run Warren Run event, a few said they still expected Clinton to win. Would they vote for Clinton if Warren doesn’t run? Tom Hunter, a 59-year-old on long-term disability, chuckled. “Yeah, of course I would vote for Hillary.”