In a move that was surprising only in the timing, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D, MA) released a launch video and a notice of forming an exploratory committee for a 2020 White House bid. The later move allows her to officially begin fundraising, staff a campaign, and become the first of the known “name” candidates to declare.
The question, of course, is where does the senator fit in a crowded primary field.
The race for the 2020 Democratic nomination is poised to be the most wide open since perhaps 1992, with the party leaderless and lacking obvious front-runners. After a midterm election that saw many women, liberals, minorities and young Democrats win, the primaries and caucuses next year are likely to be fought over not only who is the most progressive candidate but also which mix of identities should be reflected in the next nominee.
Ms. Warren, 69, is among the best-known Democrats seeking to take on Mr. Trump, who has already announced his re-election campaign, but she also faces challenges: recent controversy over her claims to Native American heritage, skepticism from the party establishment and a lack of experience in a presidential race.
Two potential top-tier candidates who have run before, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Bernie Sanders, are eyeing 2020 and are expected to disclose their plans this winter. Yet both men carry political baggage and would be in their late 70s on Election Day 2020, and many Democrats say they want a fresh face as their next nominee.
More than three dozen Democratic senators, governors, mayors and business leaders are also weighing bids — most of whom have not sought the White House before. The race is expected to draw several women and nonwhite contenders as well as liberal and more moderate politicians — making for the most diverse field in history. Several Senate colleagues of Ms. Warren are likely to enter the race soon: Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
For the former law professor, it is fair to ask just what her messaging niche will be in the coming primary fight. While conservatives have long attacked Sen. Warren as being very liberal, the most high profile of those midterm “women, liberals, minorities and young Democrats,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is both endlessly discussed and to Warren’s left on many issues. While the yet-to-be sworn in congresswoman doesn’t directly impact the senator’s presidential ambitions, the attention is worth noting. There are more than a few voices calling for a more full-throated progressivism than Elizabeth Warren has thus far produced. The senator has made a point of reaching out to minorities, but it is likely that she will face both of her African-American Senate colleagues in Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.
While her numbers amongst Democrats are high and her name recognition is solid, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden best her in both currently. There is also the possibility that some shiny new object, such as Beto O’Rouke, captures the imagination of primary voters and renders credentials and policy positions mute. The messages that brought her to national office, economic and anti-corporate and Wall Street corruption, are pretty standard fair among her competitors.
And then there is the ancestry controversy. What had been mostly relegated to barbs from her right-wing critics exploded in October when Sen Warren released a DNA test she had taken. Vikram Bath recapped at the the time:
Elizabeth Warren got DNA tested. It turns out that on her 10th chromosome she has a good chunk of DNA that is likely Native American in origin. It’s worth nothing that this is not a mound of DNA. The Boston Globe corrected its story and corrected it again to state that Warren has “a potential 10th generation relative” amounting to 1/1024 Native Americanness. You can predict the reactions. Some are latching onto the laughable remoteness of 1/1024. On the other hand, she never claimed to be 100% or even 50%. Instead, she said that she grew up believing there was a Native American ancestor in her family, and that appears to have been true.
But is she Native American?
I’m genuinely torn here. I feel respect should be given to those who have truly suffered for their identities, which Warren has not. If they object, I would like to defer to their views. Unfortunately, it may be difficult to get a true census rather than a handful of tweets I was able to find.
The social media snark almost writes itself, and Twitter memes are not the real world, but in a crowded field where most of the messaging Sen. Warren wants to focus on is already being touted, the issue of her biggest moment of the year being a negative one is a cause of concern for Team Warren. Possibly everyone has moved on and it doesn’t affect her campaign, but in a crowded field with so much similarity and immense pressure to chose a champion that will be able to defeat Donald Trump, things like lingering jokes shrink an already small margin of error.
In the end, Elizabeth Warren’s problem in seeking the presidency might well be that she just doesn’t stand out from the crowd enough to be heard. There will be other women candidates, other anti-Wall Street crusaders, more progressive policy adherents, more reconciliatory centrists, more charismatic speakers, candidates with better name recognition, and on and on the list could go. After years of telegraphing a run for the presidency, one really wonders if Elizabeth Warren has any path to get there.