By James M. Perry
If Hillary Rodham Clinton stumbles badly in her unannounced campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, we now have a lady in waiting. Her name is Elizabeth Warren.
The 65-year-old Warren is the senior U.S. senator from Massachusetts, but spent most of her career as a college professor, most recently at the Harvard Law School
What's her secret? First of all, she's a fresh face at a time when most Americans probably believe we need a new start. Second of all, she's outspoken. She's part Populist, part liberal, and entirely committed. By all accounts, she was a wildly popular teacher, and she takes those classrooms skills to the hustings.
She appeared the other day in Shepherdstown, W. Va., to campaign for Senate candidate Natalie Tennant, a long shot to succeed retiring Democrat Jay Rockefeller. She was greeted like a rock star, one observer said. The crowd "openly embraced" her standard attacks on the super-wealthy and Wall Street, "Citibank and Goldman Sachs and all those other guys on Wall Street," she said, "they've got plenty of folks in the U.S. Senate willing to work on their side. We need some people willing to work on this side of America's families. Natalie's that fighter."
Probably too simplistic for one of her Harvard classrooms, but effective, nonetheless.
The most recent Gallup poll reports that 91 per cent of American voters know who Mrs. Clinton is (who in the world are those other nine per cent?) and 55 per cent of those who know who she is have a favorable opinion of her. Only 38 per cent of the voters know who Senator Warren is, and 21 per cent of them have a favorable opinion of her.
So, of course, it makes no sense to write Mrs. Clinton off. She is still the favorite. But, in the last few months, there have been disturbing stories. Her interview with ABC News's Diane Sawyer was something of a disaster.
Diane Sawyer: It has been reported you've made $5 million making speeches, the president's made more than $100 million.
Hillary Clinton: Well, if you -- you have no reason to remember, but we came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt. We had no money when we got there and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages for houses, for Chelsea's education, you know, it was not easy.
Left unsaid was the fact they knew they would soon be raking in the cash with book deals and lecture fees.
Surely many Americans were startled to learn that Mrs. Clinton was paid $275,000 to give a speech Oct. 23, 2013 at the University of Buffalo, a state school with a piddling endowment. She explained later that the money ended up with the family's charitable foundation.
Several observers have expressed concern that Mrs. Clinton's book, "Hard Choices,'' for which Simon & Schuster reportedly paid her $14 million, has sold only 177,000 copies (a number most of us scribblers would die for). Her husband's last book sold more than two million copies. But there's a difference, I think, between an ex-president's memoirs, and an ex-secretary of state's, even if her name is Clinton.
Senator Warren is no elitist. She grew up in tough times in Oklahoma City (her family sold the car at one time to pay the bills). She didn't go to Harvard or Yale law schools. She went to Rutgers in Newark, N.J. But she's come a long way since then. She made about $350,000 a year at Harvard and made even more with her books and lectures. She and her husband, Bruce Mann, are worth as much as $14 million.
Mrs. Clinton needs to pull her rambling unofficial campaign together to avoid more talk about Senator Warren. It's time to stop this cat-and-mouse routine. Come on, Hillary, step right up and tell us you are running for president in 2016.
James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, is contributing regular observations for post-gazette.com. Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of the The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.