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The elections of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have generated new energy in the Democratic Party's liberal wing, especially among critics of President Barack Obama's centrist course who fear a Hillary Rodham Clinton presidency would mean more of the same.
The former secretary of state's support for a tougher foreign policy than Obama's in her new book, "Hard Choices," won't assuage them.
But while Clinton's book and accompanying tour have attracted enormous attention, and her standing within the Democratic Party remains very strong, there are increasing signs its liberal wing remains determined to play a role in 2016.
While Warren said she doesn't have plans to seek the White House, a fellow New Englander seems interested. Bernie Sanders, Vermont's independent senator, told The Nation magazine in March, "I am prepared to run for president of the United States." But he added he had not decided whether, if he did run, he'd do so as a Democrat or an independent. Sanders recently made an Iowa appearance.
And Eric Davis, professor emeritus of political science at Vermont's Middlebury College, told The Washington Post he thinks the onetime Socialist mayor of Burlington "is definitely going to run, and that he's more likely to run as a Democrat than as an independent."
Sanders is not Clinton's only possible challenger from the left. Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who visited Iowa last year, said in an interview with the Weekly Standard that Clinton has shown a tendency to "shift hard right." He said he is considering running even though he a presidential bid "would ruin my life."
If Clinton does face a challenge from the left, the Iowa caucuses that begin the nominating process would be an ideal battleground for such a challenger, just as it proved to be the perfect spot for Obama to deal her 2008 hopes a devastating setback. Iowa caucus participants are far more liberal than the party as a whole. In 2008, for example, 54 percent of them said in entrance polls that they were very liberal or somewhat liberal, 15 points more than called themselves liberals nationally in the Gallup Poll. Iowa's Democrats have always had a strong anti-war tendency, be it the Vietnam War a generation ago or the more recent Iraq conflict.
The degree to which some Iowa liberals distrust Clinton was evident in the reaction by one to Sanders' appearance last month at a Hall of Fame dinner in the Mississippi River town of Clinton.
"Hillary Clinton is rancid spoiled milk in comparison to Bernie Sanders," wrote Tom Fiegen in Bleeding Heartland, a blog about Iowa politics. He criticized her ties to Wall Street, complained that President Bill Clinton "sold out all of us" in pushing through the North American Free Trade Agreement, and concluded, "If she were ever to become president, progressives would rue the day."
Such attitudes could be a problem for Clinton if enough Democrats shared Fiegen's views. But there is no sign yet that such resentment is widespread. The Real Clear Politics average of leading polls shows she has the support of two-thirds of registered Democrats, nationally and in Iowa. Sanders didn't register, and the total backing Warren and Schweitzer was in single digits nationally and low double digits in Iowa.
As for the convention, party leaders might be wise to choose a site other than New York, given the fact that the city is a magnet for liberal interest groups and Clinton's home state. Still, it has by far the most big hotels, the best transportation system and lots of places for the partying that accompanies a national convention.