When it comes to potential Democratic primary rivals, Hillary Rodham Clinton is displaying a light touch.
Heading into Tuesday’s midterm elections, Clinton has crossed paths with two possible presidential competitors in the past week: Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. By all accounts, the back-and-forth of a debate stage remains a long way off.
“For the past eight years, you’ve had a great team,” Clinton said at the University of Maryland, where she vouched for Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who is running to succeed O’Malley. The outgoing governor has a lengthy record that puts him in good standing with liberals, and he’s also known for fronting a Celtic rock band.
“I don’t know if Anthony plays an instrument but your current governor does,” Clinton said. “And so he’s gotten the Legislature and the people to sing along for eight years, and the melody has been terrific.”
Clinton offered a similar embrace in Boston last week, heaping praise on Warren as a “passionate champion” for workers and families. “I love watching Elizabeth give it to those who deserve to get it,” she said.
The midterm elections have put them the three Democrats, along with Vice President Joe Biden, before crowds of Democrats who could help energize a future White House bid. They haven’t declared their intentions yet but Clinton remains the dominant Democratic contender if she runs.
How fellow Democrats could influence Clinton in presidential primary contests — as candidates or on the sidelines — remains an open question.
O’Malley picked a policy fight with the Obama administration last summer over the influx of unaccompanied immigrant children crossing the southern border into Texas. Expediting the deportations of the children, O’Malley said at the time, would “send them back to certain death.”
Clinton’s Maryland speech was interrupted several times by protesters pressing her over President Barack Obama’s expected executive orders on immigration after the midterm elections. Carrying signs that read “Choose Families Over Politics,” waves of activists heckled Clinton during her speech, prompting her to respond that she was a “strong supporter of comprehensive immigration reform.”
Warren has repeatedly denied interest in running for president — although she did suggest some wiggle room recently — but she remains a forceful voice on income inequality and refinancing college loans. Liberals hope Warren’s popularity within the party encourages Clinton to adopt some of their concerns. But they remain wary of the former secretary of state’s ties to Wall Street.
“The single best way for Hillary Clinton to ingratiate herself with Elizabeth Warren is to embrace Warren’s populist agenda of reforming Wall Street, reducing student debt and expanding Social Security benefits,” said Adam Green, who leads the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which has been a staunch supporter of Warren.
Other potential candidates like former Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., have questioned U.S. foreign policy, which could once again place a spotlight on Clinton’s hawkish record, which Obama used to his advantage in 2008.
In Maryland, O’Malley was more clipped in his appreciation, noting Clinton had “served our country so very well” as first lady, senator and secretary of state. The two never appeared on stage together, but aides said they chatted beforehand.
The governor remains relatively unknown to national Democrats but has made multiple visits to early voting states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, where he planned to help gubernatorial candidate Vince Sheheen on Saturday.
He also has longstanding ties to the Clintons. Former President Bill Clinton appeared in a campaign ad for him in 2006, and O’Malley was the second governor in the nation to endorse Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid a year later.
Hillary Clinton praised O’Malley’s tenure, saying he had joined with Brown to create “more good-paying jobs and fewer layoffs,” while signing laws to raise the minimum wage and legalize same-sex marriage.
O’Malley sat next to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., in the stands, applauding Clinton during the event. When she finished her remarks, Clinton raised her hands with Brown and his running mate, Ken Ulman, presenting the ticket to the cameras. O’Malley quickly departed through a door near the stage.
Their next meeting might be more interesting.
Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter at https://twitter.com/KThomasDC
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