Warren faces lingering concerns about her ability to beat Trump

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren unveils Native American policy plan Poll: Support for Sanders among college students reaches highest level since April Obama has taken active interest in Biden's campaign: report 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 TrumpWarren unveils Native American policy plan Live-action 'Mulan' star spurs calls for boycott with support of Hong Kong police Don't let other countries unfairly tax America's most innovative companies MORE

Warren and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPoll: Support for Sanders among college students reaches highest level since April The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Native American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment MORE (I-Vt.) were widely seen as the biggest winners of the two debates, along with Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSteve King to Gillibrand: Odds of me resigning same as yours of winning presidential nomination We need a climate plan for agriculture 2020 Democrats urge Israel to reverse decision banning Omar, Tlaib visit MORE (D-N.J.), who tangled with former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPoll: Support for Sanders among college students reaches highest level since April Obama has taken active interest in Biden's campaign: report The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy 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 Kevin DelaneyNative American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment Head of flight attendants group claims 'broad support' for 'Medicare for All' among union members 2020 Democrats urge Israel to reverse decision banning Omar, Tlaib visit 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 KerryThe Memo: O'Rourke looks to hit reset button #FreeAustinTice trending on anniversary of kidnapping in Syria Warren faces lingering concerns about her ability to beat Trump 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 ClintonThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Colorado candidates vying to take on Gardner warn Hickenlooper they won't back down Trump seeks to project confidence on economy at New Hampshire rally 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.”