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Warren warns Democrats to ‘wake up’ to Trump threat

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WASHINGTON — The heightening spat between Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and GOP front-runner Donald Trump disguises the fact that the two sound a lot alike in one key area: banker-bashing.

“Other than the hate, the xenophobia, and the downright ugliness, he talks about some important economic issues,” Warren said of Trump in a brief interview with the Globe. “He came out last month and said hedge fund managers should be taxed at the same rates as everyone else. He’s right on that.”

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Their shared interest in demonizing Wall Street is a proven winner this year among a key segment of each party’s base: a group of mostly white, lower-middle-class voters who have been hammered by the Great Recession and find themselves drawn to Trump on the right or Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on the left.

It’s a little-understood, unpredictable slice of the electorate that could be crucial to the outcome of the general election in November.

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But on just about any other issue, there’s little likelihood of a Trump-Warren alliance — and their war of words escalated Monday.

Warren, apparently ready to be the Democrats’ Trump-debunker-in-chief, offered a lengthy criticism of the New York billionaire on her Facebook page, firing off a tweet storm denouncing him.

Acutely aware of the support Trump draws from voters who feel left out by the political system and status quo, Warren added a warning: “People have been underestimating his campaign for nearly a year — and it’s time to wake up.”

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Trump returned fire to Warren during a news conference in Washington. At first, he pretended that he only had a vague sense of who she was.

“You mean the Indian?” Trump quipped. “Who’s that? The Indian?” The reference is to her claims of Native American heritage, a controversial issue in her Senate campaign.

Though steadfastly sticking to the sidelines in the Democratic primary, Warren is becoming more outspoken about the Republican ticket.

“It’s going to fall to Democrats to stop Donald Trump,” Warren said in the Globe interview. “Our party needs to come together and talk about the differences between the Democrats and Republicans . . . between the Democrats and Donald Trump.”

Warren acknowledged that there “are places of intersection” between her message and Trump’s. “But it doesn’t change the fact that his campaign is built on hate. His campaign is about dividing America. His campaign is about blaming the wrong people,” Warren said.

Warren’s longstanding credibility among working-class voters fed up with Wall Street could prove valuable — perhaps even critical — to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

So far, Warren has refused to endorse anyone in the Democratic primary, despite repeated pledges that she would back one of the two candidates. That’s been frustrating to supporters of both Sanders, who is a natural ideological ally, and Clinton, whose path to the nomination appears increasingly certain.

Warren has mostly focused on campaigning for US Senate candidates, with the stated goal of helping her party win the five seats needed to be in the majority.

But as Sanders has faded as a potential Democratic nominee, chatter is reemerging that Warren could be a key figure in bringing the party back together, and that her name could even appear on a 2016 ticket as Clinton’s running mate.

“Plenty of people are talking about it,” said Mary Anne Marsh, a Boston-based Democratic political strategist. “Nobody has been more astute at accumulating political capital and influence than Warren. And any vice presidential speculation only adds to it.”

That speculation was stoked during Warren’s CBS interview with Norah O’Donnell last week, when she refused multiple times to answer a question about whether Clinton should release the transcripts of the paid speeches she gave at Wall Street banks.

“You’re not answering my question, Senator,” O’Donnell snapped at Warren during the interview.

“What I’m doing is I’m telling you what I think should be going on right now in this election,” Warren replied.

“It’s a yes or no question,” O’Donnell pointed out. “Should she release the transcripts or not?” No answer was forthcoming.

The speculation about a vice presidential bid by Warren, Marsh said, is rooted in answering this question: “How do you get the Sanders people to support Hillary Clinton?”

“There’s a good chunk of the Sanders people who could go with Trump,” Marsh said.

The more commonly floated names for a Clinton pairing include Julián Castro, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who also happens to be young and Hispanic; Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, a white man who represents a swing state; and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, who is Hispanic and beloved by the left.

And, should Clinton be in the market for a vice presidential pick with progressive credentials, another obvious choice ahead of Warren is Senator Sherrod Brown. He could help her with white men and liberals — plus it doesn’t hurt that he represents Ohio, a major battleground in the general election. (Also, unlike Warren, Brown endorsed Clinton months ago.)

Warren would risk angering her own liberal base by endorsing Clinton while Sanders continues campaigning. Yet pressure mounts on the Massachusetts senator because the delegate deficit for Sanders makes it nearly impossible for him to win the nomination. He’s now more than 300 pledged delegates behind Clinton, and that’s not counting the nearly 500 party leaders who cast ballots in the nomination process and have pledged to support her, according to The Associated Press’s delegate counts.

Trump, meanwhile, is making a core element of Warren’s message a key part of his support.

It’s what’s motivating the 2016 version of Reagan Democrats. They’re flocking to Trump in the GOP primaries and have abandoned Clinton in places such as Massachusetts and Michigan.

Trump outperforms Senator Ted Cruz of Texas by more than 30 percentage points among Republicans who have progressive positions on health care, taxes, the minimum wage, and unions, according to the RAND Corporation’s Presidential Election Panel Survey. Cruz bests Trump in the poll by about 15 percentage points among the more economically conservative Republicans.

Trump woos this group with opposition to foreign-trade deals, support for parts of the Dodd-Frank law passed to rein in Wall Street, and his repeated accusation that hedge fund managers are “getting away with murder.”

His position on Wall Street sets Trump far apart in a Republican field that now includes a former managing director of the ill-fated investment bank Lehman Brothers (Ohio Governor John Kasich) and a spouse of a Goldman Sachs banker (Cruz).

Or, as an article entitled “The Trouble with Trump for Bankers” published this month in American Banker put it: “If bankers are looking for someone to implement their agenda, there’s scant evidence to suggest Trump would do so.”

Annie Linskey can be reached at annie.linskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @annielinskey.
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