It was progressive fun while it lasted. In the Draft Elizabeth Warren movement, the Democratic Party's liberal branch got to tout its dream candidate, keep its populist agenda attached to a high-profile public figure, and organize around a clearly defined goal. But now, of course, it's time to let go: Warren has said "no" to a presidential run in just about every way possible. ("I am not running and I am not going to run," she said in March.) Hillary Clinton has both officially joined the race and unofficially adopted many of Warren's policy positions. And if progressives want to rally around a dyed-in-the-wool liberal in the primary, they have the newly announced Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Except, for those within the Draft Warren movement, all of that is nonsense.
To them the movement is very much alive, the cause is still within reach, and Warren's dozens of "no" responses are just possible precursors to yes. "We believe we can still convince Elizabeth Warren to run for president," said Gary Ritterstein, an adviser to Ready for Warren. "The more time we spend at this, the more support for her continues to grow."
That's how draft movements work, Warren supporters say: They're never aimed at people who are likely to run, but instead target reluctant would-be candidates. "A real draft effort starts with a candidate saying 'no' a lot until there isn't a 'no,' " said Neil Sroka, spokesman for Democracy for America, one of the groups involved in the draft effort. "We knew we were doing a hard thing."
The "Run Warren Run" effort, run by Democracy for America and MoveOn in coordination with Ready for Warren, has amassed more than 320,000 supporters. It has staffers on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire who are doing grassroots organizing on her behalf.
They also insist there's still plenty of time for Warren to mount a Clinton challenge. The Democratic primary, Warren backers argue, is just getting started: Clinton's only been in the race for weeks (though she has been preparing her run for far longer), and Sanders just announced his campaign Thursday. They point to the fact that there have been plenty of presidential candidates who entered the race far later in the cycle—including Bill Clinton, who announced his 1992 campaign in October 1991.
If that's the benchmark they're working with, it could be a long time before Warren's supporters back down. Most are reluctant to talk about what happens if the senator continue to stays out of the race, but Sroka said the effort will continue only as long as Warren could still run a "competitive primary" campaign.
"This isn't going to be something that goes to Philadelphia," said Sroka, referring to the Democratic National Convention in July 2016. "This is a call for a campaign. So there obviously will be some point down the road where a campaign is no longer possible, but our view is that point is months away."
But some in the party say progressives might be missing their chance to push the progressive cause.
One Democratic strategist who works with progressive groups said that the entry of Sanders should prompt Warren backers to consider dropping their Warren focus and embracing the candidate who's actually running. "He's not the cool guy in the room, but he's the guy that wants it and is doing the work," the strategist said. "It might be time to start thinking about having the conversation that's in front of us and not a hypothetical one."
And if the goal was to get Democrats to push progressive ideals, the movement appears to have had success. Clinton—despite her struggles with the Clinton Foundation's foreign donations and her private email server—earned praise from progressives when she began her campaign by talking about a constitutional amendment to get "unaccountable money" out of politics. Her rhetoric about income inequality and a society in which "the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top," a key part of her campaign message thus far, sound far more populist than many expected.
As for others in the Democratic field, Sanders is about as progressive as it gets: The senator from Vermont long has advocated on behalf of the same issues that Warren champions. There's also former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is expected to enter the race this month: He has spent the past few weeks advocating strongly on behalf of major progressive issues such as debt-free college, Social Security expansion, same-sex marriage, and skepticism of President Obama's trade deal.
"Progressive Democrats will have lots to do this cycle," said Ari Rabin-Havt, a progressive strategist who hosts a show on SiriusXM's Progress station. "In that way, those choices exist whether or not Elizabeth Warren gets into the race."
So why haven't her supporters called it quits yet? When Sanders announced his campaign, the three groups involved in the draft released statements praising him but adding that they're still encouraging Warren to run. While other progressive groups have turned their focus toward influencing the field as it exists now—including trying to pull Clinton to the left—the Draft Warren movement still has a singular focus.
Adam Green, cofounder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said that what his group and other progressives are doing to influence the primary and what the Draft Warren movement is doing are "mutually reinforcing."
"Whether it's the Draft Warren movement, which is focused on a single candidate, or our 'Ready for Boldness' push, which is more about incentivizing all candidates to be bold and populist, or Bernie Sanders being in the race—there are multiple rivers flowing in the same direction, which is the Democratic Party pushing bold populist ideas in 2016," he said.
Now that the draft movement has made it this far, Rabin-Havt added, there's no real reason for them to slow down.
"Elizabeth Warren has made it abundantly clear that she's not running, so if you're going to keep pushing, it doesn't matter how long you keep pushing for if you feel the campaign is working for you," Rabin-Havt said. "If I were them, why would I stop?"
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