“So, it starts here.”
With those words, Elizabeth Warren began a likely run for president this past weekend in Iowa. After announcing that she’s established a presidential exploratory committee, the Massachusetts senator barnstormed across the state, kicking off the presidential primary season a full 13 months before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses.
Warren has a fiery, populist message about government corruption and how Washington has turned its back on working Americans, and she wants people to know that for her, it’s personal.
“This is the fight of my life,” Warren told a crowd packed into a function room at a bowling alley in Council Bluffs on Friday. “I didn’t pick this fight because it poll-tested. I picked it because it picked me.”
At campaign events across Iowa, from Council Bluffs to Sioux City to Storm Lake to Des Moines, Warren said her politics and policies are informed by her own story: growing up in Oklahoma in a family that struggled financially, and that for a time, got by on her mother’s minimum wage job. Warren says today a minimum wage job doesn’t keep a mother and her baby out of poverty.
“Think about that difference,” Warren told the crowd. “Back when I was a kid, folks in far-off Washington asked the fundamental question: what it going to take to keep a family of three out of poverty? Today they ask, what’s going to improve the profitability of a multi-national corporation? And that’s what we’re going to change.”
Warren characterizes the way Washington does business as “corruption, pure and simple.” She says it explains why so many working Americans are struggling to pay for everything from housing to college to healthcare.
“She’s got a message that speaks to the heart of the Democratic Party,” said Kathy Miller, the Chair of the Guthrie County Democrats in central Iowa, who came to Des Moines to hear Warren speak Saturday night. “She’s talking about education, student debt and the dark money in politics. And she can fight.”
But among the key questions for Iowa Democrats, who are looking for someone who can beat Donald Trump in 2020: can Warren win?
“I think she can,” Guthrie said.
But not everyone is convinced that a liberal Harvard professor from Massachusetts is electable.
“There is a little bit of a fear; is she too far to the left of the spectrum to win?” asks Mark Schmedinghoff, a Democrat who came to hear Warren in Sioux City. “That thought is there, so I want to see how she addresses that [concern].”
Schmedinghoff listened to Warren’s pitch. The senator pointed out that she comes from the red state of Oklahoma, where she says folks are also concerned about government corruption and a desire for a level playing field; Warren says this is a concern that reaches across party lines.
“I’m impressed,” Schmedinghoff said after hearing from Warren. “I think Midwesterners are thinking about a level playing field and opportunities for their kids, and if she continues to highlight that, she’s got something.”
All of Warren’s events in Iowa were well attended, and many Iowans were eager to ask her question.
“Why did you undergo the DNA test and give Donald Trump more fodder to be a bully?” asked Tricia Curran-Sheehan at Warren’s event in Sioux City.
Warren responded flatly, “I am not a woman of color and I am not a member of any tribe.” As she has done so many times before, she explained that she grew up with the understanding that she had Native American ancestry. But after her claim became a target of attacks by Republicans, including President Trump, she took the DNA test, which provided evidence of Indian heritage, and released the results. But that hasn’t stopped Trump, who continues to taunt her as “Pocahontas.”
“I can’t stop Donald Trump from hurling racial insults,” Warren said in Sioux City.
It was one of the few times during her visit to Iowa that Warren mentioned Trump. Through several events she avoided talking about the president, even when encouraged by Jeffrey Getz, who attended her rally Saturday night in Des Moines.
“How do you debate someone who isn’t interested in civility and facts?” Getz asked. “Do you have someone in mind?” Warren responded with a smile.
But she declined to take the bait, and pivoted to her core issue: how government corruption hurts Democrats, independents and Republicans alike.
“They know our government is broken,” she told a crowd in Des Moines Saturday night. “[They know] it’s working for all those who’ve already made it big, and it’s not working for their families. And that has to be the place where we start. That’s how we build a movement and change this country.”
Movements are also built with organization, and Warren has made a credible start. By jumping into this race so early, she’s already assembled a team of experienced political organizers in Iowa and will be heading to New Hampshire next — maybe as soon as next weekend. So if her presidential campaign goes from exploratory to official, which seems likely, she’ll have a head start in what’s expected to be a crowded field of Democrats.