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Warren faces lingering concerns about her ability to beat Trump

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenPush to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw Georgia senator mocks Harris's name before Trump rally: 'Kamala-mala-mala, I don't know' Warren, Porter to headline progressive fundraiser supporting seven swing state candidates MORE’s (D-Mass.) strong performance in this week’s Democratic presidential debates invigorated supporters who see her as slowly but surely making the case that she’s the best Democrat to take on President TrumpDonald John TrumpPolice say man dangling off Trump Tower Chicago demanding to speak with Trump Fauci says he was 'absolutely not' surprised Trump got coronavirus after Rose Garden event Biden: Trump 'continues to lie to us' about coronavirus MORE

Warren and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPush to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw Senate Democrats seek to alleviate public concern about some results not being available on election night Georgia senator mocks Harris's name before Trump rally: 'Kamala-mala-mala, I don't know' MORE (I-Vt.) were widely seen as the biggest winners of the two debates, along with Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker 'outs' Cruz as vegan; Cruz jokingly decries 'scurrilous attack' Why Latinos should oppose Barrett confirmation Judiciary Committee sets vote on Barrett's nomination for next week MORE (D-N.J.), who tangled with former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden: Trump 'continues to lie to us' about coronavirus Rally crowd chants 'lock him up' as Trump calls Biden family 'a criminal enterprise' Undecided voters in Arizona wary of Trump, crave stability MORE in the week’s second debate. 

Sanders and Warren were the stars on the first night, and they avoided battling one another while presenting a united front against centrists arguing against the progressive proposals.

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Warren had the biggest single moment on stage, when she told former Rep. John DelaneyJohn DelaneyCoronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Rep. Rodney Davis Eurasia Group founder Ian Bremmer says Trump right on China but wrong on WHO; CDC issues new guidance for large gatherings The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says country needs to rethink what 'policing' means; US cases surpass 2 million with no end to pandemic in sight MORE (D-Md.) that she didn’t understand “why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president” just to talk about what “we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.”

It was the kind of inspiring moment that was in short supply over the two nights and pointed to Warren’s potential to win voters over.

Yet the substance of the fight pointed to the continued problem that more skeptical Democrats say may be holding Warren back: nagging questions over whether she can defeat President Trump in a head-to-head contest. 

It’s Biden’s main case for being his party’s nominee, and it along with the fact that Warren and other Biden rivals are splitting the anti-Biden support may account for his frontrunner status. Many Democrats right now see Biden as their best bet to beat Trump. 

While Warren has unveiled a string of policy proposals and made headlines for running a solid and consistent campaign, some Democrats say she hasn’t figured out a way to prove she can take on Trump and win over centrist Democrats, independents and even disenfranchised Republicans in a general election. 

One strategist who is neutral in the race argued that part of the problem comes down to the one possible mistake Warren made ahead of the race: her decision to take a DNA test after President Trump repeatedly mocked her for her claim that she was Native American. 

“Everyone remembers how she played right into his hands,” the strategist said. “I think a lot of people look at the moment and say she can't go up against Trump because she's not electable even if she is a damn good candidate.”

Trump has continued to attack Warren over the issue, referring to her as “Pocahontas” on Thursday during a rally in Cincinnati. 

“She said she was Indian and I said that I have more Indian blood than she does, and I have none. I’m sorry,” Trump said. “And we drove her crazy and that’s a good thing. Not a bad thing.” 

Others suggest Warren is suffering from Democratic memories over past presidential candidates. 

She is a former Harvard professor and a politician representing Massachusetts, the same state that failed presidential candidates John KerryJohn Forbes KerrySeinfeld's Jason Alexander compares Trump dance video to iconic Elaine dance This time, for Democrats, Catholics matter President's job approval is surest sign Trump will lose reelection MORE and Michael Dukakis represented.

She is also one of five women running for president the cycle after 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham Clinton Rally crowd chants 'lock him up' as Trump calls Biden family 'a criminal enterprise' Undecided voters in Arizona wary of Trump, crave stability Push to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw MORE lost in an upset to Trump. 

This has raised a new round of questions about whether a woman can be elected president in the United States. It’s a question that is often asked in terms of electability, or whether Warren or other women in the race can win over certain male voters.

“There’s this perception that Hillary Clinton, for whatever reason, couldn’t attract white working class men in particular,” one Democratic strategist said. “I think a lot of people see Elizabeth Warren falling into that same category.” 

Democratic strategist Jim Manley said the comparison is unfair but added that Warren is “probably still suffering the lingering effects of the harsh scrutiny” that Hillary Clinton suffered. 

A poll out in June by Democratic digital firm Avalanche showed that Warren was the preferred candidate among Democratic primary voters when they’re not considering electability. 

Voters chose Warren in response to the question asking if they had “a magic wand and can make any of the candidates president—they don’t have to beat anyone or win the election.” 

But what matters most to voters this presidential cycle is if candidates can defeat Trump. 

With that in mind, those surveyed chose Biden and Sanders (I-Vt.) when asked which candidate they would vote for in the primary if the election were held today. 

In the debate this week, Warren sought to make the argument that she can defeat Trump, and argued that voters shouldn’t nominate a candidate out of fear. 

“I know how to fight, and I know how to win,” Warren said, highlighting her Senate race against former GOP Sen. Scott Brown. 

“I get it. There is a lot at stake and people are scared. But we can’t choose a candidate we don’t believe in just because we’re too scared to do anything else. We can’t ask people to vote for somebody we don’t believe in,” she added. 

Democratic strategist Michael Trujillo—a former aide on Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign— said Warren is winning the electability argument each day. 

Trujillo pointed to Warren’s successful policy rollout push, the staffers she’s hired on the ground and the organizing she’s doing in states across the country. 

“You’re talking about someone a lot of people completely wrote off in the first quarter,” Trujillo said. “She said she wasn’t going to do fundraisers, her fundraising director left, and their polling was great but they took their lumps.

“She doesn’t go from 5 percent to 15 percent, from not having a great first quarts to a great campaign in the second if she wasn’t,” Trujillo said. “I don’t have any special sauce for her to eat or drink to become better. She’s doing everything she needs to do and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

Democratic strategist Eddie Vale, who is a veteran of the labor movement, said Warren can even appeal to voters who backed Trump in 2016. 

“The folks who are worried about the Midwestern white guys and union guys, sure as hell haven’t spent a lot of time [with her.],” Vale said, adding that he's seen “what happens when she’s hanging in a room with them.”