EXETER, N.H. — Senator Elizabeth Warren, in her presidential bid, has made a target of the super-rich — pushing an “ultra-millionaires” tax, taking glee in giving billionaires the jitters, and eschewing closed-door, high-dollar fund-raisers. And suddenly, her campaign may have found a new foil.
Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s surprise move to entertain a presidential campaign could plunk one of the richest people in the world into a race where Warren, more than most, has been talking about taxing them.
Warren has included talk of her proposed “wealth tax” in her policy arguments and her onstage rallies, including Monday inside the Exeter High School gymnasium, when she relished the response it’s gotten.
“Maybe you’ve heard there are some billionaires who don’t like this. They’ve been interviewed on TV, I’ve noticed lately,” Warren told the crowd of 750 people, an apparent reference to Leon Cooperman, who told CNBC last week that she is “screwing around with the wrong guy.”
And Warren, who has generally avoided direct jabs at her Democratic rivals, has been quick to criticize Bloomberg, characterizing him as trying to buy the presidency.
Even before news broke Friday that Bloomberg had filed paperwork and qualified for the Alabama primary, Warren had added a “Bloomberg” option to a so-called wealth calculator her campaign has posted to its website to promote her plan to impose a 2 percent levy on those who have at least $50 million in assets.
On Saturday, she tweeted a link to a report that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos had called Bloomberg earlier this year asking if he’d consider running, pointing to them as examples of those who “should pitch in so that everyone can succeed.”
“I don’t think that elections ought to be about billionaires either buying it for themselves or forming super PACs to buy it for somebody else,” Warren said Monday when asked to compare her campaign strategy to Bloomberg’s reported plan of skipping early-primary states, such as New Hampshire, in favor of those that vote on Super Tuesday and beyond.
“I think that in a primary we’ve got a chance to reach out to voters,” she said. “This is how democracy should work.”
Bloomberg’s sudden emergence — combined with news that former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, too, is reconsidering a run — has sent ripples through an unsettled Democratic field already roiled by heated sniping.
Often at the center has been Warren, whom former vice president Joe Biden accused last week of clinging to an “angry, unyielding viewpoint,” a criticism born from their disagreement over her Medicare for All proposal and Warren’s charge that Biden was “running in the wrong primary.”
That prompted a Friday fund-raising e-mail from Warren, who — without naming Biden — told supporters, “I am angry and I own it,” and that women are often told they “are not allowed to be angry.”
As Warren has risen to the top of the Democratic field, she’s carefully picked her battles, and that continued on Monday, as she slid past a question about Biden’s comments and whether sexism existed in the race.
“I think you should ask the others about that,” Warren told reporters. “This shouldn’t be a question that just the women have to deal with. This should be a question the men should have to confront head-on. I think that this is something that is really important for them to talk about.”
In a weekend CNN interview, Biden defended his comments, saying he never intended them to be taken as a sexist. “I’m not characterizing anything about her attitude,” he said. “It’s about whether you can, in fact, disagree and disagree on the merits, and not turn it into something personal.”
When reporter Dana Bash noted that the rhetoric was getting “ugly” between him and Warren, Biden demurred.
“It’s not going to get any uglier with me,” he said.
That remains to be seen. Biden had already lobbed other digs at Warren, including last month in New Hampshire, when he said the country was “not electing a planner.” That appeared to be directed squarely at Warren, whose practice of regularly releasing detailed policy proposals prompted her to embrace the campaign slogan: “I have a plan for that.”
She has faced heat from her other Democratic rivals as well, especially around Medicare.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., has drawn a direct contrast to Warren by pitching a health care plan he has dubbed Medicare for All Who Want It, which he says would allow people to choose between a government-run health plan and private insurance. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator, has also criticized her, saying his own Medicare for All plan is more progressive.
It’s Warren’s focus on health care, specifically, however, that has attracted some voters. Nancy Ray, 70, of Hampton, N.H., said Warren is in her “top three” — with Biden and Senator Cory Booker — while noting the draw of having a female president.
“I’d like to see that before I’m 6 feet under,” said Ray, a Democrat, with a laugh before Warren’s town hall event Monday.
Joe Timko, a 70-year-old Democrat from Newmarket, N.H., said he, too, is still deciding on a candidate, but pointed to Warren’s wealth tax and Medicare for All proposals as pitches that have drawn his interest.
“I think it makes sense” on a theoretical level, he said. His question: “Whether she can really do these things” once elected.
Matt Stout can be reached at email@example.com.