Democrats desperate to find a strong challenger to popular GOP Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts are actively courting consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren to jump into the race.
Democrats say the party could blow its best opportunity to reclaim the seat held for nearly a half-century by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy that is steeped in party history.
Jennifer Howard, a spokeswoman for Warren's agency, issued a one-line statement Tuesday in response to questions about whether Warren is interested in running.
"Elizabeth Warren is 100 percent focused on building the new consumer agency," Howard said.
Matt Canter, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, declined comment.
But over the past several weeks, senior Democrats have urged Warren to run, according to two Democratic officials who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the conversations.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has spoken to Warren about running, underscoring the importance party officials see in the race as they try to take back the Senate seat in 2012.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the third-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership, had dinner with Warren earlier this month to discuss the possibility of her running, one official said.
Warren is a Harvard Law professor tapped by President Barack Obama last year to set up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but congressional Republicans oppose her becoming the director.
Democrats say her image as a crusader on behalf of consumers against well-heeled Wall Street and corporate interests would be a boon to her candidacy.
"She has been a passionate advocate for middle-class people," said John Walsh, Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman. "She's pretty plain-spoken and direct and those are great qualities for any candidate."
Walsh said he had not spoken to Warren and that he would not either encourage or discourage anyone from running.
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., has been a strong supporter of Warren's consumer advocate work on Capitol Hill.
Dems looking for big-name challenger
Democrats have had trouble finding a big-name candidate to challenge Brown. The field includes Setti Warren, the first-term mayor of the affluent Boston suburb of Newton and the state's first popularly elected black mayor; City Year youth program co-founder Alan Khazei and Robert Massie, a former lieutenant governor candidate.
With a crowded field of lesser-known candidates running, Democrats worry that a long, costly and divisive primary could sink their hopes of reclaiming the seat after their humiliating loss to the upstart Brown in 2010.
Polls show Brown is the most popular politician in the state and he's sitting on a campaign war chest of more than $8 million.
Yet there's been no sign party officials will try to unite Democrats behind a single Brown challenger to boost the party's chances.
"We are going to have a good primary to decide on who goes against Brown," Walsh said.