Warren shows signs of momentum after slow start

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann Warren2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests Biden says Congress must move to protect abortion rights Harris seeks Iowa edge with army of volunteers MORE’s (D-Mass.) almost single-minded focus on policy and her ambitious field organizing may be starting to pay off.

A handful of national polls released this week show the Massachusetts senator gaining on her competition, even placing second to former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push Democrats sense new momentum in Trump tax return fight Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie becomes first African to deliver Yale graduation speech MORE in one survey.

ADVERTISEMENT

At the same time, she has largely cemented her standing as the leader of the ideas primary; a candidate who has managed to secure consistent media coverage and draw curious voters to campaign events by issuing a steady stream of detailed progressive policy proposals on everything from corporate consolidation in the agriculture sector to mounting student loan debt.

“She definitely, I think, stumbled a little out of the gate. But the last week to 10 days have obviously been her best,” Joe Trippi, a veteran adviser to multiple Democratic presidential campaigns, said. “She’s obviously done very well.”

The recent polling bump signals that Warren’s fortunes may be changing after a slow — and at times rocky — start to her campaign.

Her decision last year to take a DNA test to prove her claims of Cherokee ancestry not only provided political fodder for President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rips Dems' demands, impeachment talk: 'Witch Hunt continues!' Nevada Senate passes bill that would give Electoral College votes to winner of national popular vote The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push MORE, who has long derided her as “Pocahontas,” but angered some Native Americans and critics on the left, who accused her of cultural appropriation.

And despite being one of the highest-profile Democrats to enter the primary contest, Warren struggled to match the online fundraising numbers of several of her opponents.

She raised just under $300,000 online in the 24 hours after she launched her presidential exploratory committee. By comparison, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) raked in more than $6 million in online donations in the day after he announced his candidacy.

Her decision in February to forego high-dollar fundraisers prompted the resignation of her campaign’s finance director, Michael Pratt, who had warned against cutting off a significant source of cash.

Warren’s allies dispute the characterization that she has struggled to find her footing in the race. Her strategy, they say, has always been to play the long game — an early announcement followed by rapid staff hires and consistent policy rollouts.

She has already put together a campaign team of more than 200 people, many of them based in crucial early primary and caucus states, according to a person familiar with the campaign’s staffing, giving her an early organizing advantage in the places that will help set the tone of the 2020 nominating contest.

“She has the opportunity to try to build a quiet juggernaut that does what we’ve always said is the real spade work of grass-roots organizing,” Scott Ferson, a Boston-based Democratic strategist, said.

And while Warren was outraised by four of her Democratic opponents in the first quarter of the year — she brought in about $6 million — she was able to transfer more than $10 million from her Senate campaign account, giving her the resources to fund her White House bid for months to come.

At the same time, Warren has largely established herself as a kind of thought leader in the Democratic field, embracing her reputation as a detail-oriented policy wonk who excels at explaining often-complex proposals to audiences. One slogan, “Warren has a plan for that,” has become a rallying cry for the senator’s supporters.

ADVERTISEMENT

Her regular release of policy proposals has guaranteed her steady coverage in the media, while also putting pressure on her opponents to stake out positions of their own.

Last week, for instance, Warren unveiled a sweeping plan to cancel most student loan debt and offer tuition-free public college. Hours later at a CNN town hall, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersIraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests Iowa Democrats brace for caucus turnout surge MORE (I-Vt.) was asked whether he supported that proposal.

“I really haven't studied it, but I think, you know, Elizabeth and I end up agreeing on a whole lot of issues,” he said. “And what she understands and what I understand is we don't punish people for the crime of getting a higher education.”

After the release of a report detailing the findings of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerHouse progressive: Pelosi 'has it right' on impeachment Democrats talk subpoena for Mueller Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna: 'I'm not there yet' on impeachment MORE’s investigation into Russian election interference and whether Trump sought to obstruct the inquiry, Warren became the first major Democratic hopeful to call for the House to begin impeachment proceedings against the president. Several of her opponents quickly followed suit.

Fernand Amandi, a Miami-based Democratic pollster, said that in doing so, Warren appears to be positioning herself for a leading role in the primary debates, which begin next month. “The person who has the mastery on the policies,” he said, “is going to have an advantage going in.”

“If she’s laying the architecture and the foundation on a policy basis, that will help her enormously in the debates,” he said. “And the debates are going to be decisive for the Democrats.”

Part of Warren’s early challenge on the campaign trail owes to the high expectations that surrounded her presidential prospects, one person close to the campaign said.

She had been floated for years as a possible presidential contender and was seen as a front-runner almost as soon as she entered the 2020 contest.

But her supporters point to the consistent pace of her campaign as evidence that any rise in support is more than just a “flash in the pan.”

“She’s putting very solid, not flimsy support behind her candidacy,” said Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which has endorsed Warren’s presidential bid. “As people gravitate to her right now, it’s not because of a flash-in-the pan, feel-good moment.”

The most pressing challenge facing Warren, however, may be her perceived electability at a time when Democratic voters are almost singularly fixated on defeating Trump.

A Quinnipiac University poll released on Tuesday found that while Warren has moved into second place in the primary field, behind Biden and only 1 point ahead of Sanders, only 3 percent of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters see her as the candidate best positioned to defeat Trump in 2020. Fifty-six percent pointed to Biden.

Amandi said that there’s still plenty of time for Warren to change that perception, noting that former President Obama faced similar concerns about his ability to win a general election during his first presidential bid in 2008.

Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaHarris seeks Iowa edge with army of volunteers North Korean media rips Biden: a 'fool of low IQ' Lessons from Australia: Voters put pocketbooks over climate change, again MORE had to contend with that same sort of sentiment at this point in 2007 when he was running against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonNevada Senate passes bill that would give Electoral College votes to winner of national popular vote 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests Iowa Democrats brace for caucus turnout surge MORE,” he said. “A lot of people felt like he was the candidate that was speaking to their passions, but not the person that wins the general.”

Trippi, the veteran campaign adviser, said that with so many Democrats vying for the party’s presidential nomination, many candidates will see short-term boosts, pointing to the initial excitement surrounding O’Rourke’s announcement in March and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegBiden says Congress must move to protect abortion rights Harris seeks Iowa edge with army of volunteers 2020 Democratic presidential candidates rally in support of abortion rights MORE's (D) political rise in recent weeks.

“Everybody’s going to have ups and downs. She started with some of the downs,” Trippi said. “It’s really going to continue to be a roller coaster.”