By Alexander Bolton - 11/12/13 06:00 AM EST
Liberal leaders want Hillary Clinton to face a primary challenge in 2016 if she decides to run for president.
The goal of such a challenge wouldn’t necessarily be to defeat Clinton. It would be to prevent her from moving to the middle during the Democratic primary.
“I do think the country would be well served if we had somebody who would force a real debate about the policies of the Democratic Party and force the party to debate positions and avoid a coronation,” said Roger Hickey, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, an influential progressive group.
Clinton raised concern among the Democratic Party’s populist base when she recently accepted an estimated $400,000 from Goldman Sachs for two speeches.
Influential progressives wonder whether someone who accepted such a large sum from one of Wall Street’s biggest investment firms could be expected to hold corporate executives accountable if elected president.
They also wonder how aggressively she’d call for addressing income inequality, which many see as one of the biggest economic problems facing the nation.
“If Hillary has no opposition, if she has a coronation instead, that debate doesn’t happen,” Hickey said.
Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America, a liberal grassroots advocacy group, said the Democratic Party would benefit from a competitive presidential primary in 2016.
“The issue of income inequality is vital, and Hillary Clinton has not always had the right position,” he said. “Hillary has changed a lot, and she’s grown a lot. I think this is a candidate who has evolved in a number of important ways.
“She has some heavy lifting to do to show she’s not in the pocket of banks and a candidate of the 1 percent. That’s a more open question,” he added.
Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), said Clinton should state clearly that she opposes cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits and would hold Wall Street accountable.
He warned if her positions on those issues are “bad or unknown,” it would create “a huge amount of political space for an economic populist candidate to run and win.”
Green criticized Clinton’s lucrative speaking engagements to Wall Street leaders.
“That’s worrying,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine someone getting paid a couple of hundred thousand per speech by Wall Street and then agreeing that Wall Street bankers should go to jail for breaking the law.
“It’s almost like being paid some of the spoil for lawbreaking,” he said.
Some liberals see Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as their dream candidate in 2016 because she has an impressive track record of challenging the excesses of the financial services industry.
Noam Scheiber, a senior editor with the New Republic, set liberal circles buzzing Monday morning with an article touting Warren as a potential rival to Clinton in 2016.
“She’s a big favorite of progressives,” Hickey said of Warren, who spoke at a gala for Campaign For America’s Future last week.
“She’s very clear about where she stands on a number of economic issues,” he said.
“I’m positive she’d be a great counterpoint to Hillary, but it’s really too early to say,” said Chamberlain.
Green said Clinton could inoculate herself from a challenge from her left flank if she endorsed Warren’s proposal to re-establish the so-called Glass-Steagall Act, which separated investment and commercial banks.
Former President Clinton signed a law repealing the firewall in 1999, and many liberal economic analysts say the deregulation contributed to the 2008 financial collapse.
Warren has said repeatedly she does not plan to run for president after next year’s midterm election.
Asked about the prospect of a White House bid in May, she told The Boston Globe: “No, no, no, no.”
She also signed, along with every female member of the Senate Democratic caucus, a private letter to Clinton earlier this year urging her to run for president.
Clinton’s allies have tried to heighten the political momentum behind her expected campaign and to portray her nomination as the party’s standard-bearer as inevitable.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) organized the private letter encouraging her to run, and this month, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) endorsed her candidacy at a speech in Iowa.
A longtime Clinton fundraiser said the Ready for Hillary PAC was set up by supporters to help persuade her to run and dissuade potential adversaries.
“If groups like Ready for Hillary want to build energy and enthusiasm and momentum for Hillary so that, in the end, it encourages her to run, the stronger she is, the less likely it is other people run,” said the Clinton ally.
A spokesman for Ready for Hillary did not respond to a request for comment.
Progressive strategists say there are other credible challengers if Warren forgoes the race.
Chamberlain of Democracy for America mentioned former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold.
A former Clinton aide, however, said Warren would pose the strongest challenge.
“She could raise the most money; she has the most passionate followers; she has the best kind of populist brand; and she’s currently in office,” said the former staffer, who added the private letter Warren signed urging Clinton’s candidacy would not pose an obstacle.
“My sense is that it was a relatively generic letter,” the source said. “It would have looked really weird for her not to sign it” because every other women in the Senate Democratic caucus did.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), a progressive independent who caucuses with Senate Democrats, predicts voters would embrace a candidate who challenges the Democratic establishment’s pick from the left.
“I think people are hungering for a voice out there,” he told Playboy in a recent interview.
“It would be tempting to try to raise issues and demand discussion on issues that are not being talked about: inequality in wealth and trade policy, protecting the social safety net, moving aggressively on global warming,” he said, before minimizing the chances of running himself to 1 percent.
In an interview Friday with WCAX, a Vermont television station, Sanders expressed concern that Democratic leaders are not talking enough about income inequality.
The PCCC plans to organize activists in primary states such as Iowa and South Carolina to press the 2016 Democratic presidential candidates to oppose cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and to support an expansion of Social Security benefits.
Green will travel to New Hampshire to run training session for activists this weekend and attend the state’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.
He expects other groups will get involved in what he called the pre-primary debate.