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Elizabeth Warren Brings Populist Message To Iowa, Kicking Off Primary Season

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, speaks during an organizing event at McCoy's Bar Patio and Grill in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. (Nati Harnik/AP)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, speaks during an organizing event at McCoy's Bar Patio and Grill in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. (Nati Harnik/AP)
This article is more than 4 years old.

After launching a presidential exploratory committee earlier this week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) brought her populist message to Council Bluffs, Iowa, on Friday.

Warren's trip to the western edge of the state felt like an unofficial kick-off to the 2020 presidential campaign, even though the Iowa caucuses are still 13 months away. She will spend the next two days campaigning across the state.

Warren greeted some 300 people in a function room at the Thunderbowl bowling alley. Around 200 remained outside.

Brittany Seader of Omaha and her friend, Kathleen York, were among the first in line to see the Massachusetts senator and likely presidential candidate.

“I like her policies, and I think she cares about people instead of businesses, which is really scary to me right now — how much businesses can buy support,” said Seader.

“I appreciate her story,” York said. “She’s not from a wealthy family. She went to community college and then went on to be a lawyer and a professor at Harvard. I respect that, because I think she knows how to relate to those of us who are not in that top one percent."

The story is familiar in Massachusetts, but it was the first time many Iowans heard it. Warren talked about growing up in a working class family in Oklahoma and what happened when her father got sick and could not work anymore.

“My mother was walking back and forth in her stocking feet crying and saying, ‘We will not lose this house. We will not lose this house,' " Warren told the crowd.

She said her mother had never worked outside the home, but on that day, she put on her one good dress, walked to the local Sears, and took a minimum wage job.

"That minimum wage job saved our home and saved our family," Warren said. "And if you want to know who I am, that story is etched on my heart, and it always will be."

Warren said a minimum wage job today, though, would leave a family of three impoverished — one of many examples of government policies that reward the wealthy at the expense of working families.

“That’s the difference in America,” said Warren, her voice shaking. “It is an America right now that works for the rich and the powerful, and we need to call it out for what it is: corruption, pure and simple.”

Warren’s hard-driving populist message appealed to some in the crowd.

“I just thought she was great,” said Dave Oslon of Omaha. “She’s a powerful speaker and her ideas are what we need in this country. I think she could be a powerful force in this upcoming election.”

Others suggested Warren’s brand of politics might not appeal to the heartland, especially to social conservatives.

Catherine Nicholson, who attended the event and was one of Warren’s law students in Texas, said she is a big fan of Warren’s economic message, but not her support of abortion rights.

“Here in the Midwest, we don’t talk about reproductive rights as much as we talk about murdering children,” Nicholson said. “That is the language that we use here, and it’s a huge stumbling block for people here. I always hope that Elizabeth Warren will change her mind on the abortion issue.”

When Nicholson had a chance to make that point directly to Warren, the senator said it is best to keep the government out of such personal matters.

Loreen Bliss, who lives just outside of Council Bluffs, was impressed with Warren but not completely sold. Bliss said says she’s worried about Warren’s tone, even though she likes her message.

Bliss said she believes Warren might just be the person to take on President Trump in 2020, though the senator never mentioned the president by name Friday.

“It depends on how you couch it,” Bliss said. “I would like to see less divisiveness. We have to pull our country together to survive this onslaught that we’ve just had.”

This segment aired on January 5, 2019.


Anthony Brooks Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.



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