Elizabeth Warren rises becomes rival Democrats’ top target
Published 10:59 AM EDT Sep 22, 2019
DES MOINES, Iowa — Sen. Elizabeth Warren is enjoying a remarkable stretch on the campaign trail.
The Democratic presidential contender drew more than 20,000 to a New York City rally on Monday. She received praise from the crowd and activists at an LGBTQ candidates forum on Friday for starting her remarks by naming all 18 transgender women of color murdered in the U.S. this year. And she capped the week on Saturday by taking the polling lead in the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa, according to a new Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll.
But her success means she now has a target on her back, and some of her 2020 competitors already have begun sharpening the knives.
Democratic rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg sharply criticized Warren in recent days, charging she was avoiding directly answering questions about whether her Medicare for All plan will lead to a tax increase for middle-class Americans
“You can’t beat Trump by not being straightforward about what it’s going to do,” Biden said in an exchange with a Warren supporter during a campaign event Friday in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “So if you’re willing to pay, and I respect you … the extra taxes and you think you’ll get that much more for that, that’s good. But let’s at least acknowledge, let’s tell Elizabeth (to acknowledge) it’s going to cost a lot of money, and she’s going to raise people’s taxes doing it.”
Meanwhile, Buttigieg in a CNN interview Thursday said Warren was “extremely evasive” about the tax hike issue.
“I think that if you are proud of your plan and it’s the right plan, you should defend it in straightforward terms,” Buttigieg said. “And I think it’s puzzling that when everybody knows the answer to that question of whether her plan and Senator (Bernie) Sanders’ plan will raise middle class taxes is yes, why you wouldn’t just say so, and then explain why you think that’s the better way forward?”
The tougher engagement of Warren by top-tier Democratic rivals comes at a critical moment in the Democratic presidential nomination. Nineteen major Democrats are still in the race, vying for attention, support and the opportunity to take on President Trump in the November 2020 general election.
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The new Iowa Poll that shows Warren for the first time at the top of the race in the Hawkeye State with support from 22% of likely Democratic caucusgoers is just a snapshot of where things stand in the Iowa caucus that is more than 130 days away.
Still, it is an important marker of the state of the race at a moment when more Americans are beginning to to pay closer attention to the 2020 election.
In addition to the Iowa Poll, a series of recent national polls following this month’s debate in Houston showed Warren gaining on the frontrunner Biden, while Sanders is fading.
‘Democrats can’t win if we’re scared’
For her part, Warren has subtly taken aim at Biden and other lower-tier centrist candidates, who she complains lack vision for the country while too often pressing an argument that only a moderate can beat Trump in a general election.
“There is a lot at stake in this election and I know people are scared,” Warren told supporters at her New York City speech last week. “But we can’t choose a candidate we don’t believe in just because we’re too scared to do anything else. And Democrats can’t win if we’re scared and looking backwards.”
Throughout her campaign, Warren has unveiled a series of policy ideas, including providing Americans with universal child care, a plan to cancel student debt and make college free, and a proposal to raise social security payments for all beneficiaries by $200. She has said she will largely pay for her proposals through a 2% tax on families with more than $50 million in annual income.
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But her and Sanders’ proposals to expand Medicare would cost more than $30 trillion over the next decade, according to independent analyses.
When asked at this month’s debate in Houston by ABC News moderator George Stephanopoulos if her Medicare for All plan would mean a tax hike for middle-class earners, Warren avoided giving a direct answer. She again demurred during a Tuesday appearance on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
“Costs are going to go up for the wealthiest Americans, for big corporations … and hard-working middle-class families are going to see their costs going down,” Warren responded on Colbert.
Angie Weiland, the Warren supporter from Cedar Rapids who engaged in a back-and-forth with Biden, said that she’s been impressed with the senator’s ideas.
Weiland said she would like Warren to vociferously argue that a tax hike to pay for Medicare for All is worth it by arguing that the benefits — such as improved health outcomes and ridding businesses of the burden of matching their employees with health care coverage — will outweigh the costs.
Economists at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst project that a Medicare for All program could reduce the cost of care by about 10% through lower administrative and drug costs.
Another analysis from the liberal-leaning Urban Institute estimates that households and businesses would see about $21.9 trillion in savings and state and local governments would save more than $4 trillion over the next decade. Still, there would be a $6 trillion gap in new federal spending, according to the Urban Institute.
Sanders, who was the first to embrace Medicare for All, has acknowledged that the policy will require a tax hike and set out proposals for how he’d pay for it if elected.
“I think there is room to improve in making the case on how we’d all be better off with Medicare for All,” Weiland said. “I wish she would embrace it like Bernie Sanders has in arguing that the benefits outweigh the costs.”
‘We need more than plans’
At Warren’s rallies — which are starting to rival some of Trump’s gatherings in terms of crowd size and where Warren has bolstered her reputation by hanging out for hours after speaking to take photos with supporters — the Massachusetts senator has made “I got a plan for that” the calling card of her stump speech.
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But Biden and some of her other more centrist opponents have sought to cast doubt on Warren’s ambitious plans without directly naming her.
On the day after this month’s debate, Biden told supporters at a fundraiser in the well-heeled River Oaks section of Houston that becoming president was not about “what you want to do” but “what you can do.”
“We need more than plans,” Biden said. “We need a president. We need someone who can execute a plan.”
Warren has also repeatedly called for the need for structural change in America and been dismissive of Biden’s focus on restoring pre-Trump norms to Washington.
But even as Warren has intoned that the country is in crisis and that the “time for small ideas is over,” other Democratic presidential rivals have countered that Democrats need to remain focused on winning back voters in areas where Trump won but that Obama took in 2008 and 2012.
“If we want to win and deserve to win, we can’t water down our values, and we also can’t get so caught up in purity tests that we shut out half the country before we ever get to November,” Buttigieg said in his address at this weekend’s Polk County Democrats Steak Fry, a gathering in Des Moines that drew 17 candidates and more than 12,000 attendees. “We’ve got to do this together.”
Harris campaign pokes Warren on fundraising
Warren says she is able to spend so much time taking photos with supporters, because she’s declining to hold big-dollar fundraisers through the primary.
But last week a senior aide to Sen. Kamala Harris offered thinly-veiled criticism of Warren, who transferred $10 million in reserves from her Senate campaign fund to her presidential war chest.
“We didn’t come in with millions and millions of dollars that we’d raised in 2018,” Lily Adams, Harris’ communications director. “We spent 2018 raising for other candidates.”
Sanders and Warren, two of the most liberal members of the Senate, haven’t criticized each other over the course of the campaign. But last month at a Sanders campaign event in Iowa, the actress and activist Susan Sarandon appeared to take a shot at Warren.
“He is not someone who used to be a Republican,” Sarandon told the crowd during her introduction of Sanders. Warren was a registered Republican until the mid-1990s.
Dancing vs. organizing
While her campaign may be surging, Warren took a more low-key approach to this weekend’s Polk County Steak Fry.
Biden marched into the steak fry behind an International Association of Firefighters union fire truck and with a drill team by his side. Harris shimmied her way into the event with her own band and dancers accompanying her.
But Warren, a former Harvard law school professor, decided to take a more low key yet strategic approach to the gathering that drew thousands of likely caucusgoers to one place.
Her campaign held an organizing event prior to the steak fry where it trained hundreds of supporters and then dispatched them into the event to have conversations about Warren with the huge Democratic crowd. Some carried clipboards and took the opportunity gather emails and phone numbers of attendees that seemed persuadable.
Among the volunteers were Julie and Jim Maddox, retired teachers from Dubuque, Iowa, who managed to get one person to commit to caucusing for Warren just minutes into their canvass and met a second caucusgoer who was leaning toward Warren and agreed to stay in touch with the couple ahead of the Feb. 3 caucus.
Julie Maddox said that she expects that Warren’s Democratic rivals will step up their criticism that Warren plans are impractical.
But Maddox said she’s ready with an answer for Warren’s Democratic doubters and critics.
“We just have to start out by asking for pie in the sky and then we may end up getting a piece of the pie,” Maddox said. “I think the point we have to make is that it could be a significantly more savory piece with Warren than if we stick with the current crowd.”