Warren returns to campaign spotlight
Wisconsin. Michigan. And soon Pennsylvania.
Just over three months before the midterms, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is coming out from behind the scenes — and doing it in some of the most closely watched states in the country.
The liberal lawmaker has kept a relatively low profile since suspending her presidential bid to endorse Joe Biden. Vowing to be a trusted ally to his administration, she’s quietly lent a hand on policy and personnel decisions and sponsored bills to advance progressives’ top concerns.
But increasingly, Warren is also resurfacing nationally, adopting a front-facing role as a campaign surrogate for progressive candidates in swing states.
That’s caused some to speculate about her own plans.
“President Biden has made it clear he intends to run for reelection and has my full support. But in the extremely unlikely event he changes his mind, I hope she runs,” said Charlotte Clymer, a writer and Democratic political strategist who supported Warren in the 2020 primary.
“I would follow Elizabeth Warren anywhere,” Clymer said.
The Warren momentum that emerged last cycle is still ever-present. Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), his closest competitor for the 2020 nomination, will both be in their 80s by 2024. And some see a lane clearly marked for Warren, one of just a handful of female progressives thought of as potential presidential contenders — if she wants it.
Of course, she, and Democrats as a whole, have to get through the midterms first.
“I’m incredibly grateful for Senator Warren’s leadership in this moment,” Rahna Epting, executive director of MoveOn, told The Hill.
“What makes Warren such an effective surrogate is that, like Biden, she grew up in a family that had to struggle to fight for what they needed. She was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth,” she said.
Warren, 73, has said she is seeking another term in the Senate in 2024, not the White House. For now she is lending her support to candidates in tight races, wading into party primaries and racking up airline miles.
Along the way, her travel itinerary has catapulted her back into the political conversation.
In an effort to retain one of the House’s top progressives, she traveled to Michigan last weekend to stump for Rep. Andy Levin, who is competing in an incumbent-on-incumbent primary against Rep. Haley Stevens in the state’s redrawn 11th Congressional District.
“This is going to be hard,” Warren acknowledged in Pontiac, a Detroit suburb, after outlining all of the ways she believes Levin is best suited for another term.
“He’s got the right ideas. He’s got the passion. He knows how to deliver. But it’s going to be hard for a really ugly reason,” she said, pivoting to one of her signature gripes: money in politics. “He’s getting outspent.”
Warren also backed Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a young Black progressive fighting for the chance to run against Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), one of the most fervent conservatives in the upper chamber. Warren traveled to Madison and Milwaukee on the second of two recent trips to the battleground state.
“As Mandela Barnes continues to show up in every community in Wisconsin to talk about the importance of protecting our hard-won rights like abortion access, having the support of a champion for women and working families like Senator Warren has been incredibly helpful,” said Lauren Chou, a campaign spokesperson for Barnes.
The Massachusetts senator will also be in Pennsylvania on behalf of Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic Senate nominee running against Republican Mehmet Oz in one of the cycle’s biggest nail-biters.
“Elizabeth Warren has consistently been a powerful presence in the Democratic party over the last two years, advancing good ideas that make peoples’ lives better while leading the fight against MAGA overreach,” said Leah Greenberg, co-founder of the grassroots group Indivisible.
Warren and Fetterman both appeal to working- and middle-class families, constituencies the Democratic Party is fighting to attract and keep in its corner.
“It’s no surprise that she’s widely sought-after,” Greenberg said. “The things she’s saying are resonating with a broad audience.”
While her midterm engagement has been notable to national Democrats and political observers, she has also more subtly focused her policy interests on areas, such as anti-corruption, that progressives say could appeal to a broad swath of voters.
“Sen. Warren speaking to economic issues is always massively valuable for the people of this country,” Epting said. “She has the ability to break things down very simply so that we can understand ‘what is this inflation business all about.’”
Where gas prices are soaring, another progressive operative suggested, Warren can spotlight corporate interests and the fossil fuel industry’s influence on the political system. This could be particularly useful in areas that have large concentrations of working-class residents.
“I think she’s seen obviously as a real leader on talking about and exposing corporate greed,” said Marcela Mulholland, political director at Data for Progress, a left-wing think tank and polling outfit that supports Warren’s political aspirations.
“If she’s a messenger who can really weave the fact that a lot of corporations and oil and gas companies specifically are at fault for some of the increased prices we’re seeing … That’s kind of a niche she can fill,” she said.
On another issue that polls across party lines, the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, progressives said Warren can point to her own work on behalf of women.
As one of just two dozen women in the Senate, Warren’s outspokenness about the conservative court’s decision on Roe has transformed her back into fighter mode, the style of campaigning that many remember from her presidential bid.
Recently, she pushed Biden to use his full authority to ensure those in need of abortion and critical care services have access to them and to officially declare a public health emergency.
“Our polling does show that voters are increasingly concerned about abortion rights, and specifically among women and Democratic and independent voters that’s true,” Mulholland said.
“To the extent that Elizabeth Warren is a medium for the message that Democrats are the party in favor of common sense protections of bodily autonomy, I think that’s helpful electorally,” she added.
Warren, who became known during the last presidential campaign for making wonky plans accessible, has since fine-tuned some of her political fights. She’s still pushing against tech monopolies, including engaging in a public, ongoing battle with Amazon, but has also broadened her portfolio to include areas that could impact future campaign cycles.
She’s taken a particular interest in young voters, whom Mulholland says Warren routinely polls well with. The former Harvard professor has led the charge in the Senate pushing the Biden administration to eliminate $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower. And she’s newly focused on preregistering college students to vote, hoping their involvement will help boost turnout in critical elections.
On the left, those efforts have been very well received.
“It’s pretty clear that Sen. Warren has been right about everything, and there has never been a greater need for her moral clarity and her extraordinary gift for coalition building,” said Clymer. “She is one of a handful of national figures who can unite the country.”