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With liberal agenda, Warren seeks to win over moderates

Senator Elizabeth Warren held a town hall meeting at Toad Hill Farm overlooking the White Mountains in Franconia, N.H., on Wednesday.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/Globe staff

FRANCONIA, N.H. — It’s been one of the central worries many Democrats have expressed about her campaign: How can Senator Elizabeth Warren — liberal firebrand, Cambridge resident, and former Harvard Law School professor — appeal to Republicans and independents who backed Donald Trump in 2016?

Warren, addressing a sun-splashed crowd of hundreds on a rolling green farm in the White Mountains, got a chance to answer on Wednesday. She said she would start by telling Trump voters about her plans for higher taxes on the wealthy, an issue she said has broad cross-party appeal in a time of rising income inequality.


“They get that they’re being cheated, and we get out there and make that case, and say, ‘Here’s what we’re looking for: Everybody — including the bazillionaires — pays a fair share,’ ” Warren told the crowd at Toad Hill Farm, where she hosted her 122nd town hall of the Democratic presidential primary. “That’s how we start this argument. That’s how we start this campaign.”

Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, said her plan to use some of the revenue from a wealth tax to cancel student loan debt could also win over Trump supporters.

“That’s a reason to get in the fight, regardless of who you voted for last time,” she said. “And so I think that’s another way you pull them in.”

Warren’s answers came after a woman in the audience asked, “How can we get the Republicans who voted for Trump to show remorse and vote for you?”

“I don’t need the remorse,” Warren replied. “I just want the vote.”

In addressing the issue, Warren sought to ease fears that her platform is too liberal to build a coalition large enough to win the general election. Even as she has surged into the top tier of Democratic presidential contenders, some in the party argue that her ambitious progressive proposals for universal Medicare coverage, universal child care, and free college tuition could make it difficult for her to capture moderate voters the party will need to defeat Trump next year.


“For me, the biggest question is, can she get support nationwide?” said state Senator Martha Fuller Clark, the vice chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, who is neutral in the 2020 primary but said she admires Warren’s charisma and smarts. “I think that’s a real challenge. I’m concerned the business community, moderates, independents, and Republicans will not support her, and that will be a problem.”

Bill Shaheen, a Democratic National Committee member from New Hampshire who is also neutral in the primary, said he believes Warren “needs to do more to come to the center” if she wants to win moderates and disaffected Republicans.

“I hear from them, ‘Please, give us somebody I can vote for,’ ” Shaheen said. “It’s got to be a person who comes down the middle of the road because, when you come from one extreme on the right to another on the left, it’s like a rocking boat.”

In her speech Wednesday, Warren leaned heavily on her relationship with her three older brothers who served in the military and live in Oklahoma to show she can connect with voters in red states, not just preach to the converted in liberal bastions.

“I’m out there talking to folks in West Virginia, and in Utah, and in Mississippi, and in lots of places Democrats don’t go, because I believe it is critical that we make our democracy work again,” Warren said.


New Hampshire, of course, also remains a critical state for Warren, and she has devoted significant energy here in hopes of winning the nation’s first primary.

An analysis by the data-driven political website FiveThirtyEight found Warren has spent about 8 percent of her campaign days in the state, compared to about 4 percent for her closest competitor on the left, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the winner of New Hampshire’s 2016 primary.

Recent polls show Warren in third place in the state, behind the current front-runner, former vice president Joe Biden, and Sanders.

Wayne F. Lesperance Jr., vice president of academic affairs at New England College and a longtime observer of the New Hampshire primary, said Warren’s dedication to the state is smart but also risky. He said she must either win New Hampshire outright or come in second place to a moderate like Biden to be a viable contender for the nomination.

As the senator from neighboring Massachusetts, “she can’t afford to lose New Hampshire,” Lesperance said. “Others can.”

Wednesday’s crowd — which included many retirees and vacationers — responded warmly to Warren, laughing along with her homespun anecdotes about her childhood and applauding her plans to tackle corporate interests and empower unions.

Bob Kruszyna, 88, a retired research scientist from Randolph, N.H., said he liked Warren’s plans to expand child care and save Social Security, saying they seemed pragmatic. “She’s not too doctrinaire like Bernie Sanders, who I voted for in the last election,” he said.


Kruszyna said he worries, however, that Warren might be hurt by voter antipathy toward academics, which he said helped elect Trump in 2016.

“How’s she going to overcome this ingrained hostility to smart people?” Kruszyna said, adding that he would like to ask Warren that question directly if he ever had the chance.

Michele Popovich, 74, a retired teacher from the Catskills who is spending the summer with her sister in New Hampshire, was among the many voters attracted to Warren’s detailed policy proposals, saying, “She not only has rhetoric, but she has plans.”

She said she likes Sanders, too, but feels his “time has passed.”

As for concerns about Warren’s ability to win nationwide, Popovich said that might be said of any woman running for president.

“No woman looks the part, because we haven’t seen that yet,” Popovich said.

Wendy Sanders, a Montanan visiting her son in New Hampshire, said she was torn between Warren and Bernie Sanders, whom she backed in 2016. She said she likes that both are pushing for a Medicare for All system.

“We just need someone strong,” Sanders said of the qualities she is looking for in a candidate to take on Trump. “We’re up against a very evil force, in my opinion.”

Michael Levenson can be reached at