Sen. Elizabeth Warren has stocked her political staff with a research team directed to scour her past for political vulnerabilities — an undertaking that appears aimed at a national bid. |
Elizabeth Warren has spent the past year making a series of below-the-radar moves that would put her in prime position to run for president in 2020 if she decides to.
The liberal icon and Republican bete noire has amassed more money in her campaign war chest than nearly any senator in modern history, groomed political connections with Democrats who've been skeptical of her in the past, and worked to bolster her bipartisan and foreign policy bona fides.
It’s part of a conscious break from the heads-down posture that Warren purposefully maintained during the first five years of her Senate career, a wide range of Democrats close to the Massachusetts senator and her tight-knit political operation told MARCA POLITICA. And it’s representative of Warren’s tricky navigation between the wishes of advocates who want her cutting a clear path to 2020, and supporters who think her best bet is to run up the score in her reelection race this year.
The balancing act is evident everywhere, as Warren takes steps she never did when activists were pressuring her to jump into the 2016 presidential race.
Warren is sitting on more campaign cash — $12.8 million — than nearly any other incumbent senator ever has at this point in an election cycle, despite what's expected to be an easy reelection. But she also held 17 town hall events back home in Massachusetts last year.
She spent the year meeting with prominent figures with whom she’s disagreed in the past — from former President Barack Obama to JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon — sit-downs that could come in handy if she runs for president. But Warren shied from repeated invitations to political events across Iowa and New Hampshire.
And Warren has stocked her political staff with a research team directed to scour her past for political vulnerabilities — an undertaking that appears aimed at a national bid. But the group of five aides is also monitoring a gaggle of potential Republican reelection opponents in Massachusetts, where hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, a top backer of President Donald Trump, has funded a super PAC assailing her.
“Big money is already running attack ads against her, and she is and should be taking them very seriously. She won the first time with a formidable grass-roots organization, and she should be doing the same thing again,” said former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the Democratic presidential nominee in 1988, who keeps in touch with Warren. “There will be plenty of time after that to think about the national scene.”
Yet the result of all her subtly intensifying prep is that one year after Trump’s win, she is firmly in the top tier of Democratic presidential contenders, one of just three figures — with Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden — whom all other hopefuls must consider carefully before launching their own bids.
Warren used the publicity tour for her best-selling book that was published in April to crisscross the country and get face time with voters. Warren also reconnected with heavyweight donors who tuned in to her 2012 race — headlining events hosted by Esprit founder Susie Tompkins Buell in San Francisco and former UBS executive Robert Wolf in Martha’s Vineyard, for example.
And she activated a potent network of small-dollar contributors who watch her online, especially after “nevertheless, she persisted” became a national resistance rallying cry around her.
Warren has worked to thaw her relations with local reporters after years of offering them little access, a shift that could help her prepare for the rough-and-tumble media treatment of a presidential campaign. And she has hired a staff heavy on digital talent and researchers — a line of mobilization and defense that could come in handy for both 2018 and 2020.
Increasingly the target of ire from Trump himself as he eyes his own reelection bid, Warren has started punching back on television and online when the president refers to her as “Pocahontas,” a derisive nickname referring to her claiming Cherokee heritage to law school administrators in the mid-1980s.
And while Warren's cooperation with Senate Republicans this year isn't likely to transform her reputation as one of the most liberal members of Congress, it has been a striking change of pace.
She worked with Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley on legislation to improve access to hearing aids, and with Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski on opioid funding, earning unexpected praise from conservative colleagues. Plus, as a new member of the Armed Services Committee, Warren took a Fourth of July trip to Afghanistan with Arizona Sen. John McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Still, she also often speaks of GOP proposals in harsher terms than many of her colleagues are willing to, ginning up the Democratic grass roots.
Republican senators only have one principle left, she said on the Senate floor last month as they finalized their tax bill: “Reward billionaire campaign donors.”
“The stuff that Trump is focused on, a lot of it is big breaks to big corporations and the banks and others, and that’s in her sweet spot, that’s why she was elected, it’s what she cares about,” said Doug Rubin, the longtime Democratic strategist who helped lead Warren’s 2012 Senate campaign. “So you may see more of her, just because this stuff is out there.”