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Clinton allies open to backing Warren for president in 2020

Allies of Hillary Clinton say they could see themselves supporting Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for president in 2020, even as she rails against Wall Street and pulls Democrats away from some of Clinton's more centrist positions. 

"If Elizabeth Warren decides to run for president, she will find support both from Hillary diehards who still want to elect a qualified woman as president and from Hillary skeptics who want an unflinching champion against corporate greed as the party's standard-bearer," said Seth Bringman, a Clinton ally who served as a spokesman for the Ready for Hillary super PAC. 

The 2016 primaries split the Democratic Party, with the liberal grass roots rallying to the candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). The division in the party has never healed, with both camps pointing the finger for Clinton's election loss to Donald Trump.

But some see Warren, 68, as a liberal who can bridge the divide. 

For one thing, they say, Warren endorsed Clinton wholeheartedly and then campaigned alongside her.

"She won many of us over not only with her endorsement of Hillary in 2016 but with the sincerity of it," said Adam Parkhomenko, a longtime Clinton ally. He added that Warren is also a registered Democrat, while "Bernie Sanders is not."  

Some say Clinton even came close to choosing Warren as her vice presidential nominee in 2016 in a bid to excite progressives. 

"But ultimately, it was a little bit out of her comfort zone," said one former Clinton aide. "I think there's no doubt she has the utmost respect for Warren, though, and she obviously thinks she's well-qualified."  

While Clinton allies sing her praises now, Warren was slow to make an endorsement in the 2016 primaries.

For months, she remained the only Democratic woman in the Senate who hadn't endorsed Clinton, despite the pleading of her colleagues. She also took criticism from the left, with activists arguing Warren had betrayed progressives by not giving her support to Sanders.

Warren did not back Clinton until June of 2016, when it was clear that she would win nomination.

But Warren dove headfirst into the role of Clinton surrogate, helping to raise her profile ahead of what many expect will be a presidential run in 2020. 

The Massachusetts senator has been a top contender in recent polls. A Suffolk University survey out last month found that Warren was the most popular potential 2020 candidate in New Hampshire, taking 25.7 percent support. Former Vice President Joe Biden came in second with 20 percent support, while Sanders came in third with 12.5 percent, despite having won the state in 2016.

Still, even some progressives wonder if Warren can win over centrists, particularly because of her tough rhetoric on Wall Street. Since the financial meltdown in 2008, the senator has been a particularly outspoken critic of the banking industry. During the 2016 race, some donors warned Clinton that they would stop filling her campaign coffers if she put Warren on the ticket. 

Nomiki Konst, a progressive activist, said while she could see some Democrats supporting Warren in the hopes of electing the first woman president, "it's going to require some real strategy to bring some of her supporters over."  

Warren would face other obstacles to the nomination, including another presidential bid by Sanders. If Warren and Sanders both run, they could split the liberal vote, dooming their chances.

Basil Smikle, a Democratic strategist who worked for Clinton, also warned that Warren could lose a share of the black vote if Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) or Cory Booker (D-N.J) enter the race. That could make it difficult for her to win states like South Carolina and Florida.

But the biggest threat to Warren, Smikle said, is the possibility of Biden entering the race.

"If Biden comes in, winning [Clinton's] supporters becomes harder for Warren," Smikle said. "He shares more history and politics with Hillary's core support and though he's been around a long time, he got a bit of a reboot as Obama's VP, so that may bring in some of the newer Obama voters." 

Still, in an election where Democrats will likely be spoiling for a fight against President Trump, Warren could have a leg up on the competition. 

More than almost any other candidate, Warren is able to fire up the liberal base, in part because of her ability to level pointed jabs against the president.

In an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper in April, Warren called Trump's administration "the most corrupt ... ever."

"Warren does emphasize themes - especially economic justice themes - that are similar to Bernie Sanders, and she is very willing to engage President Trump and the GOP head on, which is what a lot of Democrats are looking for," said Grant Reeher, the director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University. 

"She can fire up the base, but also argue specifics, and she is authentic in delivering the message. That's not so much anti-Hillary, but Hillary improved."  

Still, Reeher added that Warren could be "even more susceptible to some of Hillary Clinton's feet of clay as a candidate." 

Clinton had "a style and manner that struck many as elitist and scolding," and Warren could face many of the same problems, given her background in academia.

"Harvard professor is about as elite as it gets, and she comes across as a Harvard professor," Reeher said, adding that this reflects, in part, a gender bias. "But I do see it as a potential problem for her, not only in primary stats like Iowa and Michigan, but also in a general election. It taps that central but murky quality of likability."

But likability aside, even Clinton surrogates acknowledge that they need to move toward someone like Warren if they are going to keep in step with the changing Democratic Party.

"It's very clear to me that this party is going further to the left than it has in the past," said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist who served as a Clinton surrogate in 2016. "That's where all the energy and enthusiasm is coming from, the energy and enthusiasm that wasn't really there for the Clinton campaign."

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