MANCHESTER, N.H. — With polls showing her momentum waning, Senator Elizabeth Warren traveled to the must-win state of New Hampshire on Thursday and launched an amped-up offensive against her chief rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination.
In an hourlong speech at Saint Anselm College, the Massachusetts senator tried to separate herself from the 15-candidate pack, especially the three men recent surveys show outpacing her in early states: former vice president Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
She blasted unnamed rivals as “naive” for thinking they can enact a meaningful policy agenda without loosening the grip of billionaires and giant corporations on the political process, the core of Warren’s platform.
“Unlike some candidates for the Democratic nomination, I’m not betting my agenda on the naive hope that if Democrats adopt Republican critiques of progressive policies or make vague calls for unity, that somehow the wealthy and well-connected will stand down,” Warren said.
The speech amounted to her most forceful attack yet, and it came as her once-hot momentum has cooled. Just a month ago, Warren led polls in Iowa, New Hampshire, and nationwide. On Thursday, just 53 days before the first votes in Iowa, she is in fourth in the Real Clear Politics average of polls, behind that trio of men. A month ago, she was leading at 21 percent in the same average.
New Hampshire is often viewed as a “must-win” for Warren, given that politicians from neighboring states historically win in the Granite State, which shares a media market with Boston. But a WBUR/MassInc poll of likely New Hampshire Democratic primary voters released on Wednesdayplaced Warren fourth, with 12 percent, behind Buttigieg (18 percent), Biden (17 percent), and Sanders (15 percent.)
Warren’s support nationwide among likely Democratic primary voters has been cut in half in just six weeks, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll, which found she had slipped from 28 percent support to 15 percent.
Warren wasn’t subtle going after her rivals Thursday.
For Biden, who has said Republicans will have “an epiphany” and work with Democrats once President Trump is out of office, she offered, “I’m not counting on Republican politicians having an epiphany and suddenly supporting the kinds of tax increases on the rich or big business accountability they have opposed under Democratic presidents for a generation.”
For Buttigieg, she reminded voters there is a candidate who calls donors who raise $250,000 or more his “National Investors Circle,” and warned that “when a candidate brags about how beholden he feels to a group of wealthy investors, our democracy is in serious trouble.”
Calling him out by name, she accused recent entrant Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire and former New York City mayor, of “trying to buy the Democratic presidential nomination,” before defending her signature wealth tax against his criticisms that it’s meant to punish rich people.
Consistent with her longstanding unofficial truce with Sanders, she didn’t directly or indirectly knock her fellow liberal.
Warren discussed many of her previously announced plans, one after another, which has become her trademark. The new twist Thursday was to use them to draw distinctions with her opponents.
She used the phrases “some candidates,” “other candidates,” or “most candidates” to draw a contrast with herself at least 10 times in the speech.
“We’re nearly a year into the Democratic primary and no other candidate has put out anything close to my sweeping plan to root out Washington corruption,” she said at one point.
Warren wove these new critiques into an expanded stump speech focused on the big picture economic pitch she’s making to voters: that American politics is fundamentally corrupt and geared toward helping those already at the top.
She addressed how she feels the corruption has led to growing inequities not just in wealth, but also race, gender, education, housing, and even the opioid crisis.
“The choice for the Democratic Party in this primary is the same choice it faces in every primary: Will we bet on more of the same, or will we bet on change? Will we bet on small ideas, or will we bet on bold, structural change?” Warren said.
Her new willingness to strike at fellow Democrats is a strategic reversal. The former Harvard law professor has spent nearly a year on the trail doing her best to avoid criticizing her rivals or their policies, even when they have accused her of “elitism” or suggested she is too divisive to win.
The Buttigieg campaign seized on Warren’s criticisms as fresh evidence that she is too polarizing to win the White House.
“Senator Warren’s idea of how to defeat Donald Trump is to tell people who don’t support her that they are unwelcome in the fight,” Buttigieg spokeswoman Lis Smith said. “We need to move beyond the politics and divisiveness that is tearing this country apart and holding us back. Pete will be a president who will heal our divides and rally Americans around big ideas to solve the problems that have festered in Washington for too long.”
Some Warren supporters are embracing their candidate’s new stance.
“Any strategic shift is going to carry risks. At the same time we’re hitting a crucial stage,” with the campaign getting ready to launch its intense get-out-to-caucus effort, said Lauren Whitehead, a city council member in Solon, Iowa, who endorsed Warren in September.
That means, Whitehead said, it’s an appropriate time for Warren “to really make a case that she is the better candidate, to get caucusgoers motivated.”
Meanwhile, former New Hampshire house speaker Terie Norelli said she is paying more attention to what she says is Warren’s strong ground game in the state than she is to specific speeches or poll numbers.
“The truth is that people haven’t made up their minds, so when pollsters force them to pick someone, they do but they haven’t made up their mind, so it could be someone else in a few weeks,” said Norelli, who served as a cochair of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in the state but hasn’t endorsed in the 2020 race.
Iowa state Senator Claire Celsi, a Warren supporter, said that in one sense, she’s glad the pressure that comes with being the leader of the pack is off the Massachusetts Democrat, since it can help focus and motivate the on-the-ground team.
“Slow and steady wins the race,” Celsi said. “A good organization is always what gets you over the line in Iowa.”