As the Democratic primary continues and the Iowa caucuses inch ever nearer, it increasingly appears that Elizabeth Warren has a strong chance of clinching the nomination. National polls indicate that she is in a strong position – she has replaced Bernie Sanders in second place and her support continues to trend upwards. In early states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, she is experiencing similar surges, as opposed to the stagnating popularity of Sanders and Joe Biden, who currently leads the pack.
Her new status as Biden’s rival is one thing – whether she can maintain her standing and challenge his dominating lead is another. For one, she has not yet been exposed to the often negative scrutiny which has faced Sanders and Biden thus far. Her emergence as a frontrunner has already begun to change this.
Warren has built her campaign on a simple message: “I have a plan for that.” She will soon be the subject of constant attack on some of her vaguer and more controversial plans. In recent weeks, she has faced attacks from candidates such Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who lambasted her evasive stance on a middle-class tax hike to fund Medicare for All, the single-payer healthcare plan she has endorsed. During debates and interviews, she has avoided directly calling for a tax increase, but as the pressure rises she may be forced to do so.
Her other plans have similar weaknesses. At a time when around two thirds of Americans support free trade, likely as a result of Donald Trump’s trade war, Warren’s stance and voting record is remarkably similar to the president’s. She will not be able to avoid questions about her protectionist views as the primary moves forward.
Now that Warren has overtaken Sanders, he may change his previously cooperative tune toward her. The Working Families Party, a major progressive organization which endorsed him during the 2016 primary, placed its support behind Warren in a blow to Sanders’ campaign. If his downward trend and her upward momentum continue, Warren should prepare for attacks on her progressive record.
The negativity will not only come from other candidates. As the seriousness of her threat to Biden has become clear, a group of wealthy Democratic donors have threatened to back President Trump in the 2020 election if she wins the Democratic nomination. And media coverage of Warren, which has thus far been relatively positive, is sure to become more aggressive as she continues to ride a wave of popularity.
Perhaps the most effective argument against Warren is her electability. Joe Biden has consistently argued that he is the best candidate to beat Trump. He claims that he is the most electable candidate amongst the crowded Democratic field. And the argument has merit: he has incredibly high name recognition and does very well in general election polls. Importantly, he appeals to blue-collar voters in essential swing states on the Rust Belt – Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania – which handed Donald Trump the election in 2016.
Warren’s embrace of highly unpopular positions such as the abolition of private health insurance and the decriminalization of border crossings threatens her electability. She did badly in blue-collar areas of Massachusetts during Senate races in 2012 and 2018, and her polling for the general election paints a similarly weak picture.
Her saving grace may be the image she has attempted to create for herself as a “capitalist to my bones,” who hopes to reform the system but not go as far as Sanders, a self-avowed democratic socialist. She has a strong background story about a family “kind of hanging on at the edges by our fingernails,” which could appeal to voters if she emphasizes it. Her growing support among black voters recently also gives her a leg up on electability.
Warren may not be a shoo-in for the primary or the general, but her campaign certainly has the energy and momentum to carry her forward. If nothing else, more attention should be paid to her in the coming months as she deals with the challenges of being a frontrunner, and clashes more directly with Joe Biden.
Image: Flickr / Gage Skidmore
Image: Flickr / Gage Ski