WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's decision not to pick Elizabeth Warren to head a new consumer protection agency is pumping up speculation that Warren might challenge Republican Sen. Scott Brown, a top Democratic target in 2012. And some Massachusetts Democrats say the president's decision came not a moment too soon.
Democrats looking to take back the seat long held by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy said Monday the consumer advocate would need to launch her candidacy sooner rather than later to counter Brown's popularity across the state and his big campaign bank account.
"I don't think she can wait much beyond Labor Day," said Phil Johnston, a former chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. "If I were advising her, I'd recommend she make a decision as soon as possible."
Democrats fret that the party, which has been unable to find a big-name challenger to take on Brown, may be squandering a prime chance to reclaim the seat. Top national Democrats desperate to find a strong challenger have been privately urging Warren to run.
Warren is expected to weigh her candidacy in the coming weeks as she prepares to return to Harvard. After standing by outside the White House as Obama named Richard Cordray to head the bureau, Warren said she wasn't ready to think about her next career move.
"I got to get back to the house I've lived in for 15 years and we'll think about those things when it's time," Warren said. "I'll think about my future but not right now."
Johnston said Warren, who was a Harvard law professor before being tapped to set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, would need to start raising money right away and begin courting the party's grassroots activists in order to emerge as a strong candidate. Polls show Brown is the most popular politician in the state with nearly $10 million in his campaign account.
"It takes a lot of time to raise money and to meet these activists," said Dan Payne, a veteran Democratic strategist. "She isn't well-known in the state."
The liberal group Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which backed Warren to head the consumer protection agency, on Monday began a draft effort to persuade Warren to run for Senate.
"Elizabeth Warren is a bold progressive icon," the group said in an email.
White House spokesman Jay Carney had no comment when asked whether Warren should run for Senate in Massachusetts.
A favorite of consumer groups and liberals, Warren created the consumer protection bureau to help fulfill an Obama campaign promise, but congressional Republicans and the financial industry staunchly opposed her becoming the director.
Payne said Warren's image as a crusader on behalf of consumers against Wall Street and corporate interests would have strong appeal in a blue state like Massachusetts.
Faced with a crowded field, Democrats worry that a long, costly and divisive primary could dash their hopes of reclaiming the seat after their embarrassing loss to Brown in 2010.
There are seven Democrats already running, including Setti Warren, the first-term mayor of the affluent Boston suburb of Newton and the state's first popularly elected black mayor; City Year youth program co-founder Alan Khazei; and Robert Massie, a former lieutenant governor candidate.
Republicans taunted Democrats for courting Warren.
"It's pretty clear that national Democrats are unhappy with the current field, but I'm not sure a liberal Harvard professor from Oklahoma who has never run for office before is the answer," said Tim Buckley, a Massachusetts Republican Party spokesman.
Massachusetts state Democratic Party chairman John Walsh said he'd be happy to see Warren join the Democratic pack because a competitive primary would help the party against Brown.
"We need the best possible candidate because Scott Brown is a good politician," he said.