The Observer has obtained private email correspondence among a small group of Democratic insiders that reveals a plan to recruit Sen. Elizabeth Warren to challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president.
The email, sent by Niko Elmaleh to a group that includes Andy Tobias, who has been the treasurer of the Democratic National Committee since Bill Clinton was president, and Jim Dean, the chairman of the nation’s largest political action committee, Burlington, Vt.-based Democracy for America. It was sent to Mr. Tobias’ personal email account and Mr. Dean’s DFA account.
Mr. Elmaleh, a reliable Democratic donor ($25,250 in 2012; $26,150 in 2008; and $31,000 in 2006) is the executive vice president of World Wide Holdings Corp, a New York City developer of luxury residential high-rise buildings that was founded by his father, Victor Elmaleh. Niko Elmaleh’s bio calls him an “environmentalist and patron of the arts” who supports charitable organizations including the Clinton Global Initiative, the League of Conservation of Voters, and Media Matters, the left-leaning media watchdog organization.
In his April 3, 2015, email to the small group, Mr. Elmaleh refers to his concern that a lack of a meaningful primary opponent will result in a stale and complacent candidate. He writes, “I think we should seriously consider as an excellent way to keep Hilary fresh in the public eye; Elizabeth Warren should run against her.”
Later in the email he reveals that after an appropriate “show” has been staged, Ms. Warren would be expected to bow out, having strengthened Ms. Clinton as a candidate. “If we can put on a ‘show’ featuring two of the most prominent progressives who are women, it will focus the attention of the bulk of voters on us.”
He then proceeds to land a few glancing blows on the other side’s candidates: “The Republicans’ show is a comic circus and would not compete with ours. Of course, this has to be carefully managed so that Warren can gracefully withdraw after performing this vital task. I don’t think she can win yet (although she could in the future).”
The email is signed simply “Niko.”
In a telephone interview with the Observer, Mr. Elmaleh said, “I just thought it was an interesting idea. I thought it would be good to have a discussion of important issues at a very high level. … to go back to the great old days when people would argue about things without trying to kill each other.”
According to one prominent Democrat who is familiar with the email but would not comment on it by name for fear of alienating powerful party professionals, Mr. Elmaleh’s email was responded to harshly by its recipients, who told him it was “foolish and undisciplined to put that in writing.”
One longtime ardent Democrat donor with knowledge of the email wrote to the Observer, “If a contested primary helps Hillary in the end, that’s great. But I see that more coming from Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders – neither of whom would hurt Hillary or draw millions of fanatic followers who would then be so crushed they’d drop out, as some Hillary supporters did when Barack won. So the role for Elizabeth, it seems to me, is to stick with what she’s doing (and get right on the trade agreement! She’s being uncharacteristically illogical!) … knowing that if, heaven forfend, something weird should happen six months from now, healthwise or whatever, everyone would look to her (although—possibly—Biden) as the obvious and rather terrific back-up.”
It is unknown whether recipients approved of the idea or not. In an interview, Mr. Elmaleh acknowledged raising the idea. Asked how the others to whom he proposed the idea viewed it, “I think they were intrigued. … I think it would stimulate the women to get out and vote.” In response to emails from the Observer, Messrs. Dean and Tobias declined to indicate what they thought of Mr. Elmaleh’s suggestion.
Meanwhile, this is not the first time Mr. Elmaleh’s “campaign discipline” has come under question.
According to the non-partisan factcheck.org, Mr. Elmaleh was videotaped talking about Allison Grimes’ campaign to unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell in last year’s U.S. Senate race. Coal is a big issue in Kentucky and Mr. Elmaleh, who had donated $2,600 to the Grimes campaign, told an interviewer, “She’s going to fuck [coal companies] as soon as she gets elected. Take my word for it.” The McConnell campaign instantly made a campaign ad out of the videotape saying Ms. Grimes was supported by “radical anti-coal activists.”