While Warren Eyes White House, Some Supporters Are Squeamish

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at Dillard University in New Orleans, Friday, Aug. 3, 2018. (Gerald Herbert/AP)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at Dillard University in New Orleans, Friday, Aug. 3, 2018. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

Heading into the final weeks of the midterm elections, Sen. Elizabeth Warren upped the ante when she announced what most followers of politics already thought they knew: that she’ll be taking a “hard look” at running for president after the Nov. 6 election.

But first, Warren has to contend with two challengers to her Senate seat: Republican Geoff Diehl, a state representative who served as President Trump’s campaign co-chair in Massachusetts during the 2016 election, and independent candidate Shiva Ayyadurai.

And while she can probably afford to write off both opponents in her bid for reelection — a recent WBUR/MassINC poll showed Warren with a comfortable 26-point lead in the race against second-place Diehl — she’ll need to win by an impressive margin in order to be taken seriously as a contender for the White House.

“I think she's looking for at least a 15-, maybe a 20-point victory over Geoff Diehl,” said Tufts University political scientist Jeff Berry. “There are a lot of Republicans in Massachusetts, even though we think of ourselves as a solidly blue state. ... I think we ought to expect something in that magnitude.”

In conversation with WBUR, Warren made it sound a bit like she’s running against Diehl and Trump in the same breath.

“Geoff Diehl has hugged Donald Trump since Trump first arrived on the presidential scene,” Warren said. “He’s part and parcel of what’s wrong in this country right now.”

Diehl, Warren pointed out, supports offshore drilling in Massachusetts, which she said would put the fishing and tourist industries at risk. Diehl, who has long positioned himself as a candidate opposed to higher taxes, also supported the Republican tax cuts signed by Trump in 2017. During the Massachusetts primary, Diehl was seen as the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate most aligned with Trump’s policies overall.

For his part, Diehl has accused Warren of running for president at the expense of her Massachusetts constituents. And he’s not alone: In a recent Boston Globe/Suffolk University poll, 58 percent of likely Massachusetts voters said they didn’t think Warren should run in 2020 either.

Warren announced her potential run for president to a boisterous, supportive crowd in western Massachusetts on a recent Saturday afternoon. It was a brilliant autumn day in Holyoke — the kind best spent outside. But as Mayor Alex Morse warmed up the audience, he said that in his seven years in office, he’d never seen City Hall so packed with people.

Yet as the town hall wound down, even some Warren supporters expressed mixed feelings to WBUR about a presidential run.

“For me she is like a shining light,” Maria Rocco of Granby said. “It’s her choice, obviously. I would love to see a woman like her as president, but at the same time I don’t want to lose her as my senator.”

Ken Lo was up from Washington, D.C., to visit his daughter at college. Lo said that while he generally supports Warren, he still hopes to see another Democratic leader materialize in the fight for 2020.

“I’m actually hoping she doesn’t run,” Lo said. “I don’t think America’s ready for another Hillary [Clinton]. It has to be someone young and dynamic and the thing that worries me is that we don’t have anyone on the Democratic side who has risen out yet. We need Obama 2.0.”

Tufts analyst Berry says Warren is exactly what Trump wants in an opponent.

“Donald Trump would relish the chance to run against Elizabeth Warren in a general election campaign,” Berry said. “He believes that her left-leaning policies would be a liability in a general election. He also gets the chance if he takes on Warren to battle the #MeToo movement — the women's movement. And in his mind he'll stomp on it.”

"If Warren wins the nomination for the president this will be the gender battle of the century."

Tufts political analysis Jeff Berry

But Berry thinks Warren could be equal to the challenge.

“She's a fighter and I think that's what the Democratic voters will like about her — that she’s going to take on Donald Trump,” he said. “She's not going to be a moderate voice but an angry voice, and one that's going to give as well as it gets.”

Some political observers think Warren has been gearing up for a presidential run for years. Even her talking points tend to be nationally focused, and her rap against Trump and the president’s agenda is well-honed.

“The fundamental question is, ‘Who does government work for?’ ” Warren told WBUR. “Republicans have made it clear who they think government should work for. They all got together a little while back and passed a tax giveaway of a trillion and a half dollars to go to giant corporations and to billionaires. The Republicans think it ought to work for those who have already made it. I think it oughta work for everyone else.”

Warren’s current signature issue is the federal anti-corruption package she introduced in August, which would, among other things, require presidential candidates to disclose eight years of tax returns and divest themselves of all assets — including real estate — that could pose a conflict of interest. The bill also sets a lifetime ban on lobbying for presidents, vice presidents, members of Congress, cabinet secretaries and federal judges, along with multi-year lobbying bans for other federal employees.

Warren has characterized corruption in Washington as a form of public cancer.

“I believe that congressmen and senators should not be trading in individual stocks at the same moment that they’re writing laws which will affect the value of those stocks,” Warren said. “And yeah, I believe everybody, including presidents of the United States, should have to disclose their taxes. I get it: This corruption bill will not make me popular among many of my colleagues in Congress, and I don’t care. Either we believe in Democracy or we don’t.”

Yet if Warren does end up as the Democratic presidential nominee, Berry thinks the gender issue will force itself front and center.

“I think Warren is a strong contender within the Democratic Party,” Berry said. “She's very popular among Democrats who are really, really angry; very popular among women. If Warren wins the nomination for the president this will be the gender battle of the century … not so much blue against red, but women against men.”

When it comes to Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, Warren has kept the gender issue in sharp focus. In Holyoke, Warren contrasted Kavanaugh’s “entitled anger” — on display at the recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on sexual assault allegations leveled against him — with the “deference” and “courtesy” shown by his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford.

“Here it is, one of the worst days of her life, and she’s not allowed to be angry … she is there once again to say, ‘What works for you?’ ” Warren told the crowd. “Girls aren’t supposed to be angry because it makes us unattractive. Unattractive to whom? To powerful men. To powerful men who want us to be quiet. … Ultimately this is about power. About who's got it, and who doesn’t plan to let go of it. So I’ll tell you, today I am angry, and I own it."

This segment aired on October 5, 2018.



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