SHAFAQNA – A RATTLED Hillary Clinton, facing a new threat from the right with Jeb Bush’s entry into the 2016 presidential race, is battling to head off a potential challenge from Senator Elizabeth Warren, the new darling of the American left.
Clinton advisers have long viewed Bush, a former Florida governor, as the Republican most likely to defeat her.
But their expectation that Bush would ultimately decide not to run was confounded last week when he became the first significant candidate to announce he would “actively explore” seeking the office once held by his father George HW Bush and his elder brother George W Bush.
At the same time, Clinton’s inner circle is viewing with alarm the growing influence of Warren, a first-term senator who just been appointed to the chamber’s Democratic leadership team.
A former Harvard law professor, Warren has been lauded by the party’s liberal wing for her populist, anti-Wall Street rhetoric, which is in sharp contrast to Clinton’s close ties to corporate America.
Warren has declined to rule out jumping into the 2016 race, insisting she is “not running” but pointedly refusing to state she “will not run”. The left-wing pressure group MoveOn has pumped $1m into a “Draft Warren” movement. At age 65, two years younger than Clinton, this will probably be her only chance.
It emerged last week that Clinton had dispatched an emissary to meet the head of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), a pressure group closely aligned with Warren’s view, but which has so far stopped short of backing her actively for the White House.
Details of the meeting between the unidentified aide and Adam Green of the PCCC emerged after Warren received adulation from the left for a fiery Senate speech opposing the relaxation of tough rules preventing risky derivatives trading by banks.
She singled out Citigroup as a bank whose cosy relationship with Washington cheated ordinary Americans. “Washington already works really well for the billionaires and big corporations and the lawyers and lobbyists,” Warren declared in an address viewed more than 575,000 times on YouTube.
“But what about the families who lost their homes or their jobs or their retirement savings the last time Citi bet big on derivatives and lost?”
She even raised the possibility of Citigroup being broken up, inspiring bands of activists to appear outside the bank’s Manhattan headquarters last week wielding signs reading “Break up the big banks” and “Stand with Warren”.
Jeb Bush’s surprise move to form an “exploratory committee” before Clinton or Republican rivals such as Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, had done so caught them out.
John Weaver, a veteran Republican strategist, said Bush’s announcement ended the possibility of Mitt Romney, the defeated 2012 Republican nominee, running again.
In addition, it meant that the Florida senator Marco Rubio, a Bush protegé, “is out, whether he’s willing to admit that or not” while the fundraising ability of Christie and the Texas governor, Rick Perry, was “severely cramped”.
But while Bush, 61, was eliminating potential opponents, Clinton’s hesitancy was encouraging a challenge from Warren, Weaver said. “They’re a study in contrasts,” he said. “Warren is punching above her weight and forcing Hillary to react,” he said. “Her people are trying to appease the Warren crowd as opposed to flexing any muscle.”
The Clinton camp’s hesitancy was due in part to the experience of 2008 when she was the frontrunner for the nomination only to lose out to Barack Obama.
Bush’s sudden early entry into the race allows him to reactivate the Bush family network of donors and activists.
He nevertheless faces formidable challenges in the Republican primary campaign because the party’s grassroots supporters have moved to the right since he was re-elected Florida governor in 2002.
Moderate stances on the hot-button issues of immigration and national education standards have prompted intense suspicion among conservatives.
But Bush’s appeal to Hispanic voters, a majority of whom backed him in Florida in 1998 and 2002, is a powerful threat to Clinton, the strong favourite to win the Democratic nomination whether or not Warren runs.
A fluent Spanish speaker with a Mexican-born wife, his ability to win over Democratic-leaning Hispanics, a dismal 27% of whom backed Romney two years ago, has created ripples of anxiety in what campaign workers refer to as “Hillaryworld”.
Clinton advisers hope her support for Obama’s agreement with the Castro regime to thaw relations with Cuba announced last week will boost her image among younger Hispanics. Bush condemned the deal as a “foreign policy misstep”.
Weaver said that by moving to the left, Clinton could damage herself in the general election, just as Romney did in 2012 by advocating “self deportation” for illegal immigrants.
“I think Warren wants to run,” he said. “She enjoys not only being in the limelight but being the voice of liberal America right now. That’s a pretty heady thing.”