Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
 / Updated 

Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren will try to ramp up enthusiasm among liberal activists this week, offering a preview of a potential Democratic presidential contest if Hillary Clinton opts against running.

Organizers of Netroots Nation, an annual event that more than 3,000 progressives are expected to attend in Detroit this week, said Clinton declined their invitation. The former first lady had a tense appearance when she came to this conference seven years ago, facing liberals still angry about her vote for the Iraq War. Biden will speak to the conference Thursday, followed by Warren on Friday.

Many liberal activists now say they are inclined to support Clinton in a Democratic primary, acknowledging both her huge popularity within in the party and their agreement with her on most major issues. And the group "Ready for Hillary," which is not officially aligned with Clinton, is actually one of the sponsors of this event and is holding a Motown-themed party on Friday evening.

But if Clinton does not run, progressives say they will beg and plead with Warren to start a presidential campaign and expect the vice president would enter the race as well.

“Biden and Warren would be the natural next two,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal group that has urged other Democrats to adopt Warren’s views and rhetoric.

While Republicans like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul have repeatedly visited Iowa and openly suggested they would run for president in 2016, the specter of Clinton has struck fear in potential Democratic contenders. Only Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have said they will likely run even if Clinton is in the race, and Democrats view them as longshots who would struggle to win even a single primary against the former secretary of state. Biden has not said if would take on Clinton, a longtime friend of his who finished far ahead of him in the 2008 primaries.

He may have reason to avoid a contest against Clinton, with polls released by NBC News today showing the vice president trailing Clinton by more than 40 points in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

It’s very hard to tell her to run against Hillary Clinton. But if Hillary were out of there, there would be a lot of momentum to get her to run

But if Clinton doesn’t run, it will create an opening for both a large number of candidates and a potential leftward shift in the party’s ideology. The liberal group Emily’s List, which promotes female Democratic candidates, has said New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar should consider running if Clinton does not. Veteran governors like New York’s Andrew Cuomo would likely join O’Malley on the campaign trail.

Warren has repeatedly said she will not for run for president and has seemed annoyed as the question has dominated her book tour over the last few months. She, like the other female senators, has said she will back Clinton if the former secretary of state runs. And Warren has so far not even left the door open to a candidacy if Clinton does not run.

No matter to progressive activists. They have never been satisfied with Obama’s level of liberalism and are skeptical of Clinton as well. Warren, they say, will look more favorably on progressive ideas like breaking up big banks, jailing Wall Street executives accused of malfeasance, and opposing increases to the retirement age and other cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits.

And they note Warren starts off with another major advantage: fundraising ability. The former Harvard professor raised $42 million for her 2012 Senate campaign, more than any congressional candidate that year.

So liberals are determined to push Warren into the race if Clinton declines.

A few activists have even formed a group called “Ready for Warren” that is urging Warren to run, regardless of what Clinton does. The group, modeled on the “Ready for Hillary” effort that was launched last year and has become a major apparatus backing Clinton, says it will use Warren’s speech here on Friday to build a national organization backing the Massachusetts senator.

“It’s very hard to tell her to run against Hillary Clinton. But if Hillary were out of there, there would be a lot of momentum to get her to run,” said Roger Hickey, co-director of the liberal group the Campaign for America’s Future. “A movement has built around her.”

The vice president meanwhile isn’t waiting on anyone to draft him. His aides said privately he is laying the groundwork for a campaign if the opportunity is there, and he has already made visits to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, the three early primary states.

And White House officials say when President Obama can’t attend events of key groups in the base of the party, they can usually rely on the vice-president to step in, with his eye toward courting important activists who he might need in a 2016 bid.

Biden will appear next week at the annual conferences of the NAACP and the National Urban League, perhaps the two most influential black organizations in the country.

Biden too, has at times hinted he would be to the left of Obama and Clinton. He was an opponent within the administration of increasing troops in Afghanistan and annoyed some in the White House by declaring his support for gay marriage before Obama. He has strong alliances with organized labor groups, who have at times feuded with the president.