Barney Frank on Elizabeth Warren: “If Hillary doesn’t run she’s going to be very much in the mix.”

WASHINGTON – Barney Frank, the former congressman who was among the first to publicly promote Elizabeth Warren as a Senate candidate, said Tuesday that she would be a strong contender for president if Hillary Clinton chooses not to run.

“If Hillary doesn’t run she’s going to be very much in the mix,” Frank, who retired in January, said in a phone interview, explaining that he has not spoken to Warren about her intentions.

“Absent Hilary, it’s a pretty open field,” he continued. “Joe Biden has a lot of support, but he’s not in the kind of lock-it-up position.”

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Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat in her first year in the US Senate, has denied interest in the presidency. But speculation has swirled in recent weeks amid a slew of articles making the case that her popularity among liberals and vast fundraising network would make her a strong candidate who could at least appeal to the Democratic base.

While others have dismissed the speculation, Frank, known for his candor, sounded Tuesday as if he takes it seriously.

He recalled again the moment he mentioned Warren as a potential Senate candidate. It was in a 2011 conversation with President Obama, while the two men were at an event together. Warren at the time was facing strong Republican opposition to her potential appointment as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which she helped create.

When Frank mentioned that Warren might make strong a candidate, Obama asked whether Warren wanted to be a senator.

“I think she wants your job,” Frank told Obama. But she has to start somewhere.

Frank said he has not asked Warren about her presidential ambitions, but added that he would be surprised if she did not think about it. “Think about somebody who’s been playing short-stop in double-A ball for a few years,” he said. “Do you think he would say, ‘By the way, I don’t want to go to the majors?’”

Frank and Warren have a tight relationship. Before Warren ran for Senate, she worked closely with him in crafting the financial overhaul known as Dodd-Frank.

But more recently, Warren has said the legislation failed to reign in the “too-big-to fail” problem that led to both the financial crisis and the bank bailouts that accompanied it. Frank pushed back against that critique.

“She’s confusing too big and too big to fail,” Frank said. “We have resolved too big to fail. If they[financial institutions] fail, they are put out of business.”

Notwithstanding their disagreement, Frank said Warren’s only liability would be her limited experience in the Senate. But she would have time to develop greater expertise in foreign policy or other areas where she has spent less time, he said.

“She starts out a little older,” Frank said of Warren, who is 64. “She was an older freshman, but she’s vigorous and energetic and she’s a lot younger than Joe Biden.”