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Fear not, Elizabeth Warren is electable

Senator Elizabeth Warren waved during the New Hampshire Democratic Party State Convention. Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe

Manchester, N.H.

Be not afraid. Elizabeth Warren can win the White House.

Forget she’s a woman of a certain vintage, a senator from the very blue state of Massachusetts, and before that, a Harvard Law professor identified by her employer as Native American — a cultural misappropriation for which she now apologizes. Think of her, instead, as a young girl from Oklahoma, who grew up in a family living paycheck to paycheck, and who dropped out of school at 19 to get married. Holding on “for dear life,” she managed to live her dream and become a special-needs teacher. And today, that little girl from Oklahoma dreams of becoming president.


In an arena filled with party activists loudly beating inflatable thunder sticks on a Saturday afternoon, that dream seemed at least plausible. Warren and Bernie Sanders both drew enthusiastic supporters to the state Democratic Party Convention at SNHU Arena. But Warren won the day, not just on strength of noise, but on strength of message. Democrats can win, she said, “when we call out what is broken, when we show how to fix it, and when we build a grass-roots movement to get it done.”

Yes, Warren still must win the confidence of risk-averse Democrats who are afraid of picking a loser. President Trump has so played with their heads that enough of them believe a flub-prone, 76-year-old former vice president with a lifetime of problematic votes and policy positions is their best hope. If Joe Biden could defend his record with conviction and eloquence and articulate an inspirational vision for the future, that thinking might hold up. So far, he hasn’t been able to do it.

Warren, meanwhile, has rebranded herself — from Harvard elitist who checked a box she didn’t deserve to check, to Okie dreamer. If she wins the nomination, Republicans will do their best to resurrect the old identity. But unlike Biden, she shows formidable skill as a politician and self-advocate. And unlike Hillary Clinton, she trusts her own instincts.


In the context of a vast left-tilting Democratic primary field, Warren is now wisely carving out space as a passionate progressive who’s not a Sanders socialist. That was a key part of Saturday’s mission. As she told New Hampshire Democrats, “I get that in America there are gonna be people who are richer and people who are not so rich. And the rich are gonna own more shoes and they’re gonna own more cars and they may even own more houses. But they shouldn’t own more of our democracy.”

As Warren walks the line of separating herself from Sanders’ pure socialism while trying not to alienate his fervent believers, she’s also making the case that choosing a candidate out of fear is no way to win a presidential election. “I get it. I get it,” she said in her speech. “There is a lot at stake, and people are scared. But we can’t choose a candidate we don’t believe in because we’re scared. And we can’t ask other people to vote for someone we don’t believe in.”

Clearly, she was referring to Biden, considered the leading candidate because of his stubborn hold on that bible of political punditry, the polls. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll put him on top, with support from 27 percent of those surveyed, compared with 19 percent for Sanders and 17 percent for Warren. Biden also enjoys a so-called electability advantage, with 42 percent of those surveyed seeing him as the candidate with the best chance to defeat Trump, compared with 12 percent who see Warren that way.


But, who really is the bigger risk? Biden, who coughed through an uninspiring speech and referred to Trump as “Donald Hump” — a slip he called “Freudian”? Or Warren, the candidate of plans, including a plan to win?

Remember what she said: Call out what’s broken. Show how to fix it. And build a grass-roots movement to get it done.

There are no guarantees in life or politics. But Warren is laying the foundation for a winning message.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.