Elizabeth Warren argues for her electability as new Democratic front-runner

Sahil Kapur

Elizabeth Warren used her first rally as a front-runner in the Democratic presidential race to assure a crowd in a small New Hampshire town that her brand of progressive politics made her the most viable candidate.

“There’s a whole bunch of core issues, like raising the minimum wage, and giving unions more power, and more regulations over financial institutions, and canceling student loan debt, and a wealth tax, that the majority of Americans not just the majority of Democrats, the majority of Americans are on board,” Warren said in Keene on Wednesday.

Polls this week showed her leading in the Granite State as well as Iowa and California, and one survey found her narrowly displacing Joe Biden at the head of the Democratic pack nationally.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at a campaign event, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in Keene, N.H.

Warren’s surge puts Biden on notice that, although he enjoyed a sizable lead in the race since entering the race in April, he now faces real competition.

Her rise could also expose her to attacks from rivals that she has largely avoided. She used the event at Keene State College to counter questions about her viability in a general election, a concern that nags many Democrats, who worry that she would be carved up by President Donald Trump.

Some in the party, including women, are haunted by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 defeat and worry that the country isn’t ready to elect a woman.

“She’s the person that Trump would like for an opponent,” Greg Griffin of Anamosa, Iowa, who attended an event for Pete Buttigieg in that state this week. “He’ll jump all over her.”

Warren’s rise is driven by growing support among liberals and college-educated white Democrats, and a modest but important boost among black voters, a vital constituency that Biden has dominated and Warren has struggled to reach.

The rally in Keene, a town of 25,000, showed the fiery and pugilistic persona Warren has cultivated as she channels Democrats’ anger toward Trump and an economic system she argues has been hijacked by powerful entities to beat down legislation that’s good for ordinary workers.

“Democrats and Republicans nobody likes the corruption,” Warren said. “Nobody likes a government that has been bought and paid for by the rich.”

Warren said a fundamentally corrupt system had allowed drug companies to write health care legislation and the fossil fuel industry to block action on climate change. And she pitched her wealth tax as a way to finance universal child care and canceling student debt.

“I’m not pushing a wealth tax because I’m cranky with rich people. I’m not. I’m not,” she said, before mocking the wealthy who complain about high taxes. “I worked hard! I stayed up late!’ yeah, unlike anybody else,” she said.

A Monmouth University poll released Tuesday had her leading the field in New Hampshire, which holds the second nominating contest, with 27%, statistically tied with Biden’s 25%. Her support has risen by double-digits since May, while Biden’s fell by double digits.

Bernie Sanders, who enjoyed a crushing victory in New Hampshire with 60% of the vote in the 2016 Democratic primary, was in third place, at 12%. He is also courting the most progressive voters with a message of taxing the rich and expanding the safety net.

In Iowa, where the first-in-the-nation contest is held, a CNN/Des Moines Register survey found Warren leading with 22% while Biden had 20%. Warren’s support rose by 7 points since June, while Biden’s support fell by 4 points.

A UC Berkeley poll of California, a delegate-rich early contest that begins early voting on the day of the Iowa caucuses, also found Warren leading the Democratic race with 29%, ahead of Biden’s 22% and Sanders’ 19%. Kamala Harris, the state’s junior senator, had 8%.

In addition, Warren found herself atop the field nationally for the first time in a Quinnipiac survey released Wednesday. She carried 27% of Democratic voters while Biden had 25% her lead was within the margin or error, but in the last month Warren rose by 8 points while Biden fell by 8.

Most notably, Warren appears to be gaining with black voters, a constituency that has picked every Democratic winner in presidential contests since 1992. Her support among African Americans nearly doubled from 10% to 19% in the Quinnipiac poll, while Biden’s dipped from 46% to a still-strong 40%.

Warren has spent the summer branding herself as a candidate who knows what’s wrong with the political and economic system and has “a plan” to fix it. She eschewed high-dollar fundraisers to spend hours on the rope-line taking selfies and photos with supporters.

In a week where Washington was upended by the announcement of a House impeachment inquiry into Trump, Warren told reporters she’s not concerned that it’ll distract from her policy agenda. “There are some things that are bigger than politics,” she said.

In Keene, she took care to show she didn’t take her new-found status as a front-runner for a given.

“I don’t do polls,” she told reporters after the event. “It’s four and half months until the first caucus in Iowa and then the first primary in New Hampshire. I’m getting out there every day talking to as many people as I can about what’s broken, how to fix it, and how we’re building a grassroots movement to get it done.”