Juan Williams: Warren on the rise

Juan Williams: Warren on the rise
© Aaron Schwartz

If you think Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenJuan Williams: Honesty, homophobia and Mayor Pete Trump DACA fight hits Supreme Court Democrats on edge as Iowa points to chaotic race MORE (D-Mass.) hit it big last week, keep watching. This week will be bigger for her.

A Suffolk University/USA Today poll last week showed 82 percent of Democratic voters plan to watch this week’s first debates. Eighty-six percent say those events will help them decide on a candidate.

As the only top contender on stage for the first of the two debates, on Wednesday night, Warren is a good bet to dominate your TV screen.

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This month, a Quinnipiac University poll found the Massachusetts senator already getting 17 percent support from those Democrats who are giving the most attention to the primary campaign.

Former Vice President Biden got the most support with 32 percent from those voters, whereas Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersJuan Williams: Honesty, homophobia and Mayor Pete Democrats on edge as Iowa points to chaotic race Democrats debate how to defeat Trump: fight or heal MORE (I-Vt.) got the backing of only 9 percent.

The big audience that will see Warren at center stage creates a potential bonanza for her to drive her support even higher.

This comes on top of favorable profiles in The New Yorker and The New York Times.

Warren is now basically in a tie for second place with Sanders. As she is rising in polls, he is fading.

They are still far behind Biden. But he had a rough week.

Black support is at the heart of Biden’s candidacy, but he weakened his link with African-American voters by talking about his past working relationships with segregationists.

He appeared out of touch, unable to understand why younger Democrats, living with a bigot in the White House, might be upset to hear him bragging about his ability to work with a racist, the late Sen. James Eastland (D- Miss.).

Biden is opening the door wide for Warren.

Even President TrumpDonald John TrumpThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Judd Gregg: The big, big and bigger problem MORE’s pollster, Tony Fabrizio, now predicts Warren “will be leading” the Democratic field by October.

What’s the bad news for Warren?

Voters tell pollsters they are not sure she can beat Trump.

Can she deal with his bullying, with being derided as “Pocahontas”?

Can she get angry and fire back?

Actually, Warren’s ascent in the polls is likely due to her ability to show authentic anger.

Here is Warren talking about the right to abortion, which has come under increasing attack from Republicans.

“I’ve lived in an America where abortions were illegal,” she said during an MSNBC town hall event earlier this month. “And understand this: Women still got abortions.”

Restrictions, she added, would mean that “women of means would still have access to abortions. Who won’t, will be poor women, will be working women, will be women who can’t afford to take off three days from work.”

Warren also has a label – “economic patriotism” — for her genuine anger at the way middle-class Americans struggle while Wall Street titans get richer.

“I believe in markets,” Warren told CBS News in March, “markets that work, markets that have a cop on the beat and have real rules and everybody follows them.”

Asked about people who label her a “socialist,” she shot back, “it’s just wrong.”

In her New Yorker profile, she said polls show “between sixty and seventy-five percent of America,” supports her plans to raise Social Security benefits, pay a higher minimum wage and cut student loan debt.

She told the magazine plainly: “The progressive agenda is America’s agenda…This is not only how we win Democrats…It’s how we win independents and some Republicans.”

In televised town hall meetings and in interviews, Warren is showing the same emotion — yes, anger — in talking about issues.

In 2014, I named Warren the “Senator of the Year” in this column because she acted on issues as well as talking about them.

That year she used her political star-power to force income inequality to the top of the national agenda. Sanders in the past even referred to Warren as his “favorite senator.”

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And now, Warren has surpassed many of her progressive colleagues in Congress by proposing a “wealth tax” which would raise taxes on billionaires and levy a 2 percent tax on fortunes over $50 million and 3 percent over $1 billion. She supports Medicare-for-All, the Green New Deal and reparations for African-Americans.

She was one of the first presidential candidates to call for Trump’s impeachment, putting her ahead of liberals like Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiImpeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Klobuchar: 'I have seen no reason why' Hunter Biden would need to testify Johnson dismisses testimony from White House officials contradicting Trump as 'just their impression' MORE (D-Calif.).

When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Progressive veterans group launches campaign labeling Trump as a 'national security threat' GOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week MORE (R-Ky.) famously said the end of the Mueller probe meant “case closed,” Warren didn’t back down.

“I felt a responsibility to go to the floor to say: ‘Case not closed, buddy,’” she told Politico in May.

In my thinking, Warren has made one glaring strategic error in her campaign by refusing to participate in forums hosted by Fox News — full disclosure: my employer — like her rivals Sanders, Sens Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSenate panel clears controversial Trump court pick Advocates step up efforts for horse racing reform bill after more deaths Harris proposes keeping schools open for 10 hours a day MORE (D-N.Y.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharDemocrats debate how to defeat Trump: fight or heal Republicans, Democrats brace for first public testimony in impeachment inquiry Klobuchar: A woman with Buttigieg's experience would not be on presidential debate stage MORE (D-Minn.), and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegJuan Williams: Honesty, homophobia and Mayor Pete Democrats on edge as Iowa points to chaotic race Democrats debate how to defeat Trump: fight or heal MORE (D).

Democrats are looking for a fighter. Warren needs to show she can go on Fox and talk to conservatives.

As we enter the debates, Warren is showing she is a contender.

Biden still holds a big lead. But Warren is closing fast. 

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.