Skeptical Questions for the Founder of the Elizabeth Warren Presidential Draft Campaign

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 16 2014 11:56 AM

Skeptical Questions for the Founder of the Elizabeth Warren Presidential Draft Campaign

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Erica Sagrans does not feel this way.

Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

This here blog is a proud source of 2016 narrative-bashing, a place where it is very clear that progressive Democrats want Hillary Clinton to be their 2016 nominee and are not seriously seeking a challenger. In polls, up to 90 percent of liberal Democrats say they like Hillary. She's running 30-odd points ahead of her best primary numbers from 2007. Ready for Hillary, the super PAC created by superfans, is raising more money. Etc., and so on, etc., take this cold water and dump it.

Yet there really is a campaign to draft Elizabeth Warren into the presidential race. It is embryonic, launched this week, and first reported by the Huffington Post. Ready for Warren is headed by Erica Sagrans, an online Democratic strategist with tours at the DNC and on the 2012 Obama re-election campaign, who then went to the Working Families Party as it challenged New York Democrats from the left. I talked to Sagrans today as she rode to this weekend's annual Netroots Nation conference, and the following transcript has been lightly edited. My "ums" and "uhs" were lost somewhere.

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Slate: How and why did you guys start this draft campaign?

Sagrans: Well, we weren’t the only Twitter and Facebook accounts that were supporting Warren. This started as an informal conversation among friends and activists, and we formalized it with a website. We were planning a bigger launch for Netroots Nation—we’re still planning that—but word got out. Our take is that now is the time when we want to be thinking and dreaming big about what we want to see in the next president, and what the Dem nominee should look like. It should be a progressive leader. And Elizabeth Warren ends up embodying those values we’re campaigning for.

Slate: It feels like the debate in the Democratic Party is over how best to nudge Hillary Clinton to the left, or win commitments from her on economic issues. Is running Warren the best way to do that?

Sagrans: Our end goal is to convince her to run, to convince her there’s the support needed to do it. Even if she doesn’t end up running, one of our goals is to push that conversation and push for those issues she’s fought for: advocating for students facing lots of debt, breaking up the big banks. She’s been the most visible leader on those issues.

Slate: Does she have the experience to be president on Jan. 20, 2017?

Sagrans: We feel she has the experience from the work she’s done as a senator, as well as the work she’d done previously. It’s hard to say how she would avoid it, but obviously since she’s been to D.C. she’s been a real fighter on the issues she was working on before. She’s continuing to do that. But another goal of ours is to build this grassroots organization, to have a grassroots infrastructure to support other progressive candidates.

Slate: I guess the problem is that progressives have been here before; they elected Barack Obama, who got into office and had to staff the government. He was the progressive candidate, he upset the establishment—which never happens—and progressives didn't get all they wanted. How do you prevent that from happening again?

Sagrans: I think it’s about looking at who the candidates connected to, who they’ve surrounded themselves with. But it’s also important to have that grassroots pressure on someone, something that elevates them and holds them accountable. Whoever is president, you’re going to need to have that continued pressure and continued support.

Slate: Hasn't that existed during the Obama years, though? There were two years when Democrats controlled Congress, and Obama got plenty done; since the House flipped, not so much. Why focus on a presidential race, given how Congress can grind down an agenda?

Sagrans: We know it’s hard, in terms of making progress and change in D.C. There’s a lot of obstruction in Congress. It’s definitely been challenging. Regardless of what a president can do at any given time, it’s important to fight for the most progressive leader we can, and as senator Warren is the most visible and outspoken progressive.

Slate: Are you guys getting salaries? Is this a full-time organization with full-time jobs?

Sagrans: We’re still figuring out the structure. Right now we’re just building momentum and focusing on Netroots. Right now, we’re figuring it out.

Slate: And would you support Hillary if she won the nomination.

Sagrans: I personally would, yes. Some people in this group would go one way, some would go another way.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics