As Elizabeth Warren makes gains in the primary, Trumpworld takes notice
MANCHESTER, N.H. — In a presidential campaign defined by sudden surges and by former vice president Joe Biden’s dominance in the early polls, Senator Elizabeth Warren has done something unique: posted a steady rise through a crowded field.
But she doesn’t want to talk about it.
As Warren took the microphone in a restaurant on her 11th trip to New Hampshire on Friday, she pressed on with the policy talk that has powered her momentum, drawing hearty applause from Democrats here as she explained her marquee plan to tax the richest Americans — and left it to her supporters to celebrate the apparent success of her strategy.
“She’s climbing the polls because she’s qualified, and she’s got good ideas,” said Wendy Thomas, a New Hampshire state representative who told the Globe she plans to support Warren. “She’s a frickin’ powerful woman, get over it.”
After a sluggish start this winter, Warren is making strides in the Democratic primary campaign. She attracted a crowd of more than 6,000 at a recent Oakland rally and has surged to as high as second place in some early state and national polls, distinguishing herself from the large field with a plethora of policy proposals that have led her fans to embrace “I have a plan for that” as her unofficial slogan.
She has a long way to go to catch Biden, but Republicans have nevertheless taken notice, recently describing her as a threat to President Trump months after he declared her candidacy all but dead.
“We are absolutely taking her seriously as a possible general election opponent, preparing for that possibility and working to educate voters on how extreme her positions truly are,” said Mike Reed, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee.
Trump campaign pollster John McLaughlin raised the alarm internally about Warren’s momentum in May and June in early voting states, Politico first reported, urging the campaign to pay attention to her potential appeal to suburban female voters as well as Midwesterners attracted to her populist style.
In an interview, Warren dismissed the news that the Trump campaign was watching her closely.
“Donald Trump will say whatever. Full stop,” she said. “This is a time to talk about our affirmative vision for what we can do for this country. And that’s what I do in 100-plus town halls taking thousands of questions. It’s not enough to be not Trump.”
When Warren launched her presidential campaign, her prospects seemed dimmer. Her decision to settle lingering questions over her claims of Native American heritage with a DNA test made her a target of ridicule for Trump — who still calls her “Pocahontas” — and left Democrats squirming, and she was still apologizing for the misstep days before her official campaign launch in early February.
But that slow start may have had un upside: It encouraged Republicans to ignore her.
“It’s allowed people to get to a place where they treat her as a gigantic nothingburger and I’m not sure that’s correct,” said Liz Mair, a Republican consultant.
It is unclear if Warren is out of the doldrums for good. Some of her competitors have seen swift jumps in the polls only to cool off. And her momentum will likely make her a target of new attacks on both the left and the right.
But Warren’s advisers say her campaign was always premised on the long game. Her policy rollouts generate frequent headlines. She keeps a grueling campaign schedule, with far-flung travel and a habit of lingering at campaign events for as long as it takes for every voter to take a picture with her if they want one. Democratic activists say they are impressed with what they see as her resilience.
“I think the only thing Mitch McConnell has said in the past 10 years that I agree with is, she persists,” said Sue Dvorsky, the former chair of the Iowa Democratic Party. “She keeps coming. . . . We’re all keeping an eye on her.”
Warren has already succeeded in building energy on the left, particularly after she became the first top candidate to call for Trump to be impeached. That has helped improve her poll numbers nationwide and in key primary states.
In the latest Iowa poll, Warren was essentially tied for second with Senator Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., nine points behind Biden. In New Hampshire, the most recent poll had Biden at 33 percent, Sanders at 20 percent and Warren jumping to third at 17 percent. And she recently came in second in a pair of polls in Nevada and South Carolina.
“Clearly she’s chipping away at Bernie’s support a little bit, but I think she’s drawing support across the board,” said Mark Longabaugh, a former top Sanders campaign adviser who is now unaffiliated. “One of the strengths she’s brought to the campaign is the ability to build a broad coalition from the left.”
Warren also is seen as speaking directly to Trump’s voters in Midwestern states on manufacturing and trade issues he snatched from Democrats in 2016.
“The last thing we need as Republicans is to lose the new coalition we’ve built just because there’s an eloquent and resilient opponent on the other side,” said Michael Caputo, a former adviser to the Trump campaign. “If Elizabeth Warren addresses them, they will listen.”
On a trip to Michigan and Indiana this month, she castigated companies for moving jobs offshore and rolled out an “economic patriotism” plan intended to shore up American industry.
Fox News personality Tucker Carlson dedicated a portion of his opening monologue recently to praising the plan, which he said “sounds like Donald Trump at his best.”
“So who is this Elizabeth Warren, you ask?” Carlson asked. “Well, not the race-hustling, gun-grabbing, abortion extremist you thought you knew.”
The monologue was seen as a giant waving red flag in Trumpworld. “I think what Tucker was saying there, beyond the obvious, is that all of us who support the president of the United States better watch our backs because she is going to steal our lunch if we’re not careful,” Caputo said.
When asked about the sudden love from Carlson, Warren told the Globe simply: “He’s right.”
Still, some Republican strategists are skeptical the Trump campaign genuinely fears Warren, given that Biden’s more center-of-road policy positions would be harder for Trump to paint with his favorite “socialist” brush.
On Twitter and in recent interviews, Trump has focused on insulting Biden and occasionally Sanders, not so much Warren. And Trump recently fired pollsters for leaking data showing him trailing Biden in several key states.
“There’s no question that Warren is rising in the polls in the Democratic primary and making inroads with likely primary voters but she remains a divisive and partisan figure in a general election,” said Ryan Williams, a former staffer on 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign. “And I think the president’s team recognizes that she would be an easier general election opponent than a more centrist candidate like Joe Biden.”
But Colin Reed, who ran former senator Scott Brown’s unsuccessful reelection bid against Warren in 2012, said he heard similar predictions back then, with many in Washington predicting that Warren would be an easier general election opponent than some of the more moderate candidates in the primary.
“I’ve heard her be underestimated before,” Reed said. “That’s not a mistake I would make.”