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Elizabeth's Time to Shine

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The walls of my high-school gym were covered with pithy aphorisms such as: "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." The most memorable was: "Life is a grindstone; whether it wears you down or polishes you up, depends upon what you are made of." Certainly, a presidential campaign is a grindstone; in the process most candidates get ground up, while a few thrive. Somewhat unexpectedly, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has adapted to the arduous 2020 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination and is beginning to shine.

Warren was the first Democrat to enter the presidential campaign -- December 31, 2018 -- and, ever since, has been campaigning non-stop. I like Elizabeth, but initially had some concerns about her as a presidential candidate: I thought she would come across as an academic or a scold. This hasn't happened; instead. as she slogged though non-stop campaign events, Elizabeth has gotten more confident and, to my eyes, softened. She's still smart as a whip, but her intelligence hasn't gotten blocked her message; she's found a way to communicate with her supporters without dumbing down her ideas. (So far this year, Warren has held more than 80 town-hall meetings.)

(By the way: I'm struck by how smart the Democratic candidates are, in general; whether it's Elizabeth Warren or Pete Buttigieg or Kamala Harris or Amy Klobuchar or Corey Booker... Trump is going to have a tough time debating any of these candidates -- if he participates in the debates.)

Six months after entering the presidential campaign, Elizabeth Warren has found a way to differentiate herself from the other candidates: her now familiar refrain "I have a plan for that." If Joe Biden's shtick is "I'm everybody's Uncle Joe... I'm likable and electable" and Bernie Sanders is "I may look like someone's grandfather but I'm actually a revolutionary," Warren's political identity is, "I may be a woman but I'm the smartest person in the room."

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Warren has blended her personal story -- impoverished single mom who becomes a Harvard Law School professor-- together with intelligence and liberal populism. This has produced a potent political cocktail. Elizabeths's brew showed up at the April "She the People" candidate forum in Houston. Many expected Democratic presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Corey Booker to dominate the event, but it was Warren who stole the show. Since then Warren has played to increasingly enthusiastic crowds. (And she's sold a lot of "Warren has a plan for that" t-shirts.)

As a consequence, Warren's poll results have improved. A recent Des Moines Register poll(https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/iowa-poll/caucus/2019/06/09/iowa-poll-biden-leads-democrats-bernie-sanders-elizabeth-warren-pete-buttigieg-caucus-2020/1360801001/) of prospective Democratic Iowa caucus-goers found Senator Warren was in third place (15 percent) after Joe Biden (24 percent) and Bernie Sanders (16 percent). But another question indicated that Warren is close to a tie with Biden: "Among those who plan to caucus in person, 61% say Biden is on their list in some way... Just as many 61% say Warren is on their list. That includes 15% who choose her as their first choice, 14% who pick her as their second choice and 32% who say they are considering her."

The Warren presidential campaign is experiencing a surge. The latest Economist/YouGov poll (https://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/4etmv6wq62/econToplines.pdf) asked prospective Democratic voters: "If the Democratic presidential primary or caucus in your state were held today, who would you vote for?" 26 percent responded "Joe Biden;" 16 percent responded "Elizabeth Warren;" 14 percent were not sure; and 12 percent responded "Bernie Sanders." All other candidates were in single digits. (By the way: the same poll indicated that while Sanders is the best known candidate, he has the highest unfavorable rating at 33 percent.)

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Writing in Mother Jones, David Corn (https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/06/elizabeth-warren-plan/?) pointed out another reason for Warren's momentum: "In February [Senator Warren] announced she would not raise campaign cash via high-ticket dinners and receptions or through dialing-for-dollars calls to wealthy would-be donors. The campaign promoted this as a move demonstrating that Warren would not grant access to rich contributors; she would not be selling influence and would instead rely on small-dollar donors... This decision that burnished her reformist credentials had a critical impact on the campaign: It unshackled her schedule."

So, what will it take for Senator Warren to win the Democratic presidential nomination?

The Iowa caucuses occur on February 3, 2020. One the next 8 months, Warren should keep doing what she is doing. ("Nevertheless she persisted.") At the moment, only she has found a winning formula.

Of course, Joe Biden is the frontrunner, but If Warren maintains her current pace she'll differentiate herself from Joe Biden on the basis of personal energy. And most Democrats will realized that Warren has more depth than Biden.

Many believe that Warren's primary competition will come from Bernie Sanders. From here it seems that Warren has two advantages: First, she can "out wonk" Sanders; Bernie has a lot of ideas but Warren has more and they are better elaborated. Warren's second advantage is that she is a woman. Right or wrong, a lot of female Democratic voters blame Sanders for Hillary Clinton's 2016 loss -- remember the "Bernie Bros."

It's a long road ahead, but from here the ultimate winner will probably be Elizabeth Warren. She's emerged from the grindstone with a clear campaign message and identity.

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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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