The Washington Post

Pol­icy ideas are giv­ing Warren mo­men­tum

- BY MICHAEL SCHERER US Politics · Politics · Elizabeth Warren · Massachusetts · Austria · U.S. Supreme Court · Iceland · Joe Biden · Belgium · Belarus · Des Moines · Bernie Sanders · Vermont · Indiana · Iowa · Robert Mueller · Democratic Party (United States) · Donald Trump · Colorado · West Virginia · Virginia · Twentieth Century Fox Film Company Ltd. · Tucker Carlson · Michigan · Warren · Texas · California · Pocahontas · South Bend · Pete Buttigieg · Clear Lake, IA · Clear Lake, Iowa · John Hickenlooper · Kalamazoo · Beto O'Rourke · California Democratic Party · Breakfast Club

lans­ing, mich. — Mid­way through Eliz­a­beth Warren’s stump speech th­ese days, her fans start jump­ing from their seats like pis­tons, fir­ing with cheers and ap­plause each time she rat­tles off an­other new pol­icy punch­line.

“Here’s a good one,” the sen­a­tor (D-Mass.) said last week at a com­mu­nity col­lege gym filled with about 1,700 peo­ple. It was a plan to im­pose new ethics rules on Supreme Court jus­tices. “I re­ally could do this all night long. But let me do — let me do just one more.”

She did a dozen more, each greeted with an ova­tion: A law to force the re­lease of politi­cians’ tax re­turns. A wealth tax on those worth more than $50 mil­lion. New rules to limit com­pany size. And on and on.

Six months af­ter launch­ing her can­di­dacy amid blun­der­ing apolo­gies for her long­time claims of Na­tive Amer­i­can ances­try and nag­ging ques­tions about whether she could com­pete on a na­tional stage, Warren is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some­thing un­usual in the crowd

ed Demo­cratic field: mo­men­tum.

It is not show­ing up in na­tional polls, which have re­mained largely steady with Warren in the sin­gle dig­its, far be­hind former vice pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den.

But en­er­gized crowds have been flock­ing to her events in early-vot­ing states. Her non­stop stream of pol­icy po­si­tions, which add up to what would be a re­struc­tur­ing of Amer­i­can cap­i­tal­ism, has helped shape the broader de­bate.

Some state-level sur­veys show Warren near Bi­den at the top of the field. A poll by the Des Moines Reg­is­ter, CNN and Me­di­a­com, which pub­lished over the week­end, com­bined prob­a­ble cau­cus­go­ers’ first choice, se­cond choice and can­di­dates they are “ac­tively con­sid­er­ing” to show that Bi­den and Warren are evenly matched by this mea­sure with 61 per­cent each.

Bi­den has the edge in the “first choice” cat­e­gory, with 24 per­cent. But Warren’s per­for­mance on that front — 15 per­cent de­scribed Warren as their first choice, com­pared with 16 per­cent for Sen. Bernie San­ders (I-Vt.) and 14 per­cent for South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete But­tigieg — re­flected a stronger po­si­tion for Warren than she held in pre­vi­ous Iowa polling.

Warren has cap­tured the at­ten­tion of many vot­ers on the ground, both with her pol­icy pro­pos­als and her will­ing­ness to make un­equiv­o­cal state­ments that of­ten seem to rise above the din of the cam­paign. It took only a few hours af­ter the re­lease of spe­cial coun­sel Robert S. Mueller III’s re­port, for in­stance, as other prom­i­nent Democrats hes­i­tated, for Warren to is­sue a Twit­ter thread ex­plain­ing why, af­ter read­ing the doc­u­ment, she be­lieved it was time for im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings against Pres­i­dent Trump.

Many vot­ers have been skep­ti­cal of whether she has the “gump­tion” to take on Trump, said Craig Well­man, 71, of Clear Lake, Iowa, who at­tended an event over the week­end for former Colorado gover­nor John Hick­en­looper. But Well­man said he was now ex­cited by Warren be­cause of the way she has “fought her way back” and shown her­self to be “un­daunted” by the pres­i­dent’s at­tacks.

“She’s got chutz­pah,” Well­man said, be­fore stop­ping to choose a dif­fer­ent word. “For­give me, but she’s just got balls.”

Warren has pre­sented her vi­sion for tax­ing the su­per wealthy to shift money to pro­grams aimed at boost­ing eco­nom­i­cally strug­gling and mid­dle-class Amer­i­cans as a path to make gains with some pre­vi­ously pro-Trump vot­ers and has trav­eled to con­ser­va­tive ar­eas such as ru­ral West Vir­ginia to make her case.

Even as she re­jected a Fox News in­vi­ta­tion for a town hall, call­ing the net­work a “hate-for-profit racket,” one of its pro-Trump hosts, Tucker Carlson, re­cently praised Warren’s no­tion of “eco­nomic patriotism,” say­ing, “She sounds like Don­ald Trump at his best.”

The blue­prints have con­vinced vot­ers such as Tina Pyzik, 60, a res­i­dent of Kala­ma­zoo, Mich., who has two grown chil­dren. Pyzik walked into a re­cent Warren event hav­ing do­nated to six Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates and left with her mind made up.

“Most of the peo­ple that I love that are run­ning have the same be­liefs that I do, the same ideas that I do, the same changes that they want to see — but I haven’t heard clear-cut ideas,” she said. “This just so­lid­i­fied it for me to­day that I am go­ing to work on her cam­paign in Michi­gan. I’m all in. She has clear ideas and she wants to put them into prac­tice.”

Warren’s ap­par­ent rise stands in con­trast to some of her ri­vals, most no­tably former Texas con­gress­man Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Ka­mala D. Har­ris (D-Calif.), who have strug­gled to main­tain early mo­men­tum and settle on a defin­ing mes­sage.

At mul­ti­can­di­date fo­rums — most re­cently, one by the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­cratic Party — Warren is reg­u­larly earn­ing the loud­est cheers. Her “I have a plan for that” slo­gan has be­come a rec­og­niz­able meme, fea­tured on the cam­paign’s pop­u­lar T-shirt.

How high Warren can go re­mains an open ques­tion. She is split­ting the party’s more lib­eral vot­ers with San­ders, and many Democrats won­der whether she would be the strong­est can­di­date to take on Trump, given her left­lean­ing ideas and the pres­i­dent’s seem­ing abil­ity in the past to get un­der her skin. Re­cent sur­veys mea­sur­ing po­ten­tial head-to­head matchups against Trump show Bi­den with sig­nif­i­cant leads and Warren in a closer con­test.

One early set­back — when Warren faced back­lash to her an­nounce­ment that she’d taken a DNA test show­ing that she had slightly el­e­vated mark­ers for Na­tive Amer­i­can ances­try — still hov­ers over her cam­paign.

What had been in­tended as ev­i­dence of her her­itage was crit­i­cized as a tone-deaf claim of cul­tural iden­tity. The sen­a­tor ul­ti­mately apol­o­gized for call­ing her­self Na­tive Amer­i­can over two decades, but the mat­ter prompted con­cern among Democrats that she would strug­gle to de­feat Trump, who has mocked her with the racially in­sen­si­tive ep­i­thet “Poc­a­hon­tas.”

On a re­cent ap­pear­ance on “The Break­fast Club,” a pop­u­lar morn­ing ra­dio show that draws a largely young, African Amer­i­can au­di­ence, Warren was re­peat­edly ques­tioned about her past claims of Na­tive Amer­i­can eth­nic­ity, with one host com­par­ing them to a white wo­man pre­tend­ing to be black.

Warren said she had been told of this os­ten­si­ble back­ground by her rel­a­tives. “This is what I learned from my fam­ily,” she said.

Re­cent pos­i­tive cov­er­age of Warren’s cam­paign has es­pe­cially ran­kled San­ders al­lies, ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with the cam­paign’s in­ner work­ings who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause that per­son was not au­tho­rized to speak publicly. San­ders’s team pri­vately com­plains that Warren has got­ten credit for ideas it says he pi­o­neered years ear­lier, such as mak­ing it eas­ier to join unions.

In other pres­i­den­tial cam­paign cy­cles, the “can­di­date of ideas” la­bel has some­times been a ticket to nowhere, as Demo­crat Bill Bradley found in 2000 and Repub­li­can Ron Paul in 2012. Democrats for the mo­ment ap­pear to want as­sur­ances that a can­di­date has plans for ce­ment­ing lib­eral change and re­vers­ing Trump’s poli­cies.

“Not all vot­ers will be com­fort­able with her pol­icy po­si­tions, but I think she earns re­spect from vot­ers for be­ing spe­cific and con­tin­u­ing to grind out more and more so­lu­tions,” said Jennifer Palmieri, an ad­viser to Hil­lary Clin­ton’s 2016 cam­paign and John Ed­wards’s 2004 and 2008 ef­forts. “You win peo­ple over slowly. It’s more of a tor­toise than a hare strat­egy.”

Warren’s slow-and-steady ap­proach has been a mantra for her cam­paign, partly out of ne­ces­sity. The sen­a­tor passed on what could have been a siz­zling fight in 2015 against Clin­ton, only to face the re­al­ity in 2019 of a more crowded field with con­tenders who may have a fresh-faced ap­peal.

Warren has been boosted by an ex­ten­sive or­ga­ni­za­tion and a re­lent­less sched­ule. She used more than $10 mil­lion from her Se­nate re­elec­tion fund for an early in­vest­ment in Iowa, where she has the largest staff of any cam­paign.

She dis­missed her high-dol­lar cam­paign fundraiser and de­cided not to hire a tra­di­tional poll­ster, in­stead em­bark­ing on a blis­ter­ing cam­paign sched­ule. By her cam­paign’s count, she had held 95 town hall meet­ings in 20 states and Puerto Rico through Wed­nes­day, taken more than 422 au­di­ence ques­tions, held 65 me­dia avail­abil­i­ties and posed for self­ies with more than 28,000 vot­ers.

In the mode of Howard Dean’s los­ing 2004 cam­paign and Barack Obama’s win­ning 2008 ef­fort, Warren has focused heav­ily on grass-roots or­ga­niz­ing, cre­at­ing a so­cial me­dia net­work for sup­port­ers and hit­ting up ev­ery­one who emailed, texted or ap­peared at a cam­paign event.

Two rudi­men­tary pol­icy cal­cu­la­tors on her site, which let vot­ers es­ti­mate how they would ben­e­fit un­der her stu­dent loan and child­care plans, have proven pop­u­lar and serve as an­other re­cruit­ing tool.

To at­tend her events, which have grown larger in re­cent weeks, at­ten­dees must sub­mit to plac­ing col­ored stick­ers on their lapels, which mark them as a per­son for whom in­for­ma­tion has been gath­ered. Cam­paign aides ask at­ten­dees at ev­ery event to text their Zip code to a cam­paign data­base, cap­tur­ing their phone num­bers. The re­ward for giv­ing up your data is a re­ply text with a pho­to­graph of Warren’s golden re­triever, Bai­ley.

Cam­paign work­ers then reach out, of­ten re­peat­edly, to re­cruit th­ese peo­ple to vol­un­teer.

Many of Warren’s back­ers cite her pol­icy specifics and her abil­ity to ex­plain them. “She is bet­ter than most col­lege pro­fes­sors,” said John God­frey, an aca­demic ad­min­is­tra­tor in Ann Ar­bor, Mich. “She has man­aged to do it with­out be­ing a wonk. She is able to craft a nar­ra­tive.”

 ?? PHO­TOS BY MELINA MARA/THE WASH­ING­TON POST ?? Sen. Eliz­a­beth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks to thou­sands of del­e­gates and sup­port­ers June 1 at the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­cratic Party State Or­ga­niz­ing Con­ven­tion at the Moscone Cen­ter in San Fran­cisco.
PHO­TOS BY MELINA MARA/THE WASH­ING­TON POST Sen. Eliz­a­beth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks to thou­sands of del­e­gates and sup­port­ers June 1 at the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­cratic Party State Or­ga­niz­ing Con­ven­tion at the Moscone Cen­ter in San Fran­cisco.
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