Hoping to recapture momentum in the weeks before presidential primary voting begins, Senator Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday redoubled her campaign narrative of fighting corruption and empowering those left behind, imploring her supporters to imagine a world beyond the “chaos and ugliness of the last three years.”
Warren used her New Year’s Eve address at the Old South Meeting House to frame the themes defining a campaign that, once buoyed by a late-summer surge, has struggled of late with flagging poll numbers and fund-raising.
Warren said there’s fear in Americans but also “hope for change” and a long history of embracing big ideas. She needled Republicans as “spineless.” And she asked her supporters to envision her as president — which they did enthusiastically, interrupting her 40-minute speech nearly 50 times with applause or standing ovations.
“My will to fight has been strengthened by the people who have whispered their dreams into my ear,” Warren told the crowd of 680, many of whom waited long after she finished speaking to take photographs with her. “My determination to lead a movement has been forged by the tens of thousands of people who have said they are ready to fight for the country they know we can be.”
The speech marks a year since Warren announced she would run for the Democratic presidential nomination, and it leaned heavily on soaring rhetoric and calls to “imagine what our country will look like” entering a new decade.
It also served as an unofficial reset to her campaign narrative, reminding her supporters of the sweeping plans that have won her attention as she has been buffeted by rivals on her left and right.
“The billionaires, the corporate executives, and their favorite presidential candidates have one clear goal: To convince you that everything you imagine is impossible. To convince you that reform is hopeless. To convince you that because no one is pure, it’s pointless to try to make anything better,” Warren said.
“Those with power — and those who do their bidding — dump an endless avalanche of excuses, misdirections, and distractions on the American people. And it’s all designed to get us to give up and resign ourselves to the way things are — with them in power and everyone else left behind,” she added. “But we know in our hearts that power in America can rest with the people.”
Warren has been on the campaign trail since announcing an exploratory committee with an online video on Dec. 31, 2018. While the timing of the announcement was initially viewed as a head-scratcher, she scooped up top staff, particularly in early primary states, and began building a campaign a before most other candidates even had a start date.
But Warren has also faced early struggles, including backlash to her pursuit of a DNA test to prove her Native American heritage. She also was slow to raise cash after swearing off high-priced fund-raisers or even calling major donors, and instead, relying on a small-dollar fund-raising network.
By late summer, she was being branded as the candidate who had a plan for everything, beginning with an idea to raise taxes on those worth at least $50 million.
Slowly, she began to lead in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire and nationally, but by the late fall, as she faced criticisms from her left and right over her plans to implement Medicare for All, she had slipped to fourth in those early states, trailing former vice president Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind.
Tuesday’s event came days after she made a last-minute fund-raising appeal to her supporters in the face of lagging campaign contributions and just weeks after she delivered an hourlong speech in New Hampshire targeting her chief rivals.
Warren’s supporters dismiss the notion that her recent polling and fund-raising numbers are a sign of waning support. “If anybody somehow thinks that $17 million before an end-of-quarter deadline is bad, I think most candidates would take that in a heartbeat,” Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III said.
Others noted the enthusiasm among the crowd at Tuesday’s events — and said they’ve seen the same in church basements and auditoriums in the early-voting states. “People are leaving this space feeling helpful and yes, renewed,” said Representative Ayanna Pressley, who introduced Warren Tuesday.
Warren opened her speech with a broadside against President Trump and Republican members of Congress, whom she accused of being “fawning, spineless defenders of his crimes.” But her remarks largely focused on themes of gender and race.
She asked the crowd to “imagine an America where the lived experience of women is reflected in committee rooms and corner offices and yes, even that really nice Oval-shaped office at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” — a remark that sparked loud chants of “Warren! Warren! Warren!” throughout the hall.
Warren also paid homage to Phillis Wheatley, who was born into slavery but rose to become one of the 19th century’s best-known poets. Wheatley, she said, “imagined a world that did not yet exist, but a world she could see,” and Warren encouraged others to do the same.
“Black history, American history, has shown us the way to the America of our highest ideals,” Warren said. “A roadmap of resistance and endurance in the fight to transform the heart of our nation. And that fight continues to this very day.”
She added: “2020 is our fight, our chance to rewrite the rules of power in this country.”
That Warren appealed directly to African-Americans is “safer strategically,” said David Hopkins, a Boston College political science professor, especially as voting moves to South Carolina and other southern states. But he said there’s risk to “emphasize the demands of the Democratic Party to have more women in power.”
“Some, including women, believe the lesson from the 2016 election is that it’s just harder for women to win, and above all Democrats want to beat Trump,” he said.