Warren Fights for Early Democratic Position in Iowa Campaign Swing

Sits at 8 percent support among likely Iowa caucus-goers behind Biden, Sanders, O'Rourke

Elizabeth Warren
Elizabeth Warren / Getty Images
January 6, 2019

DES MOINES, Iowa—Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) adores the word "fight."

On the campaign trail for a trio of events in Iowa on Saturday, the word kept coming from the undeclared but basically declared 2020 presidential hopeful. "Let me say something about this fight." "This is the fight of my life." "That's why I'm in this fight." "It is time to fight hard, dream big, and make real change."

Heck, the names of her last two books are A Fighting Chance and This Fight Is Our Fight.

Warren was out there fighting all day in front of capacity crowds, starting with an organizing event in Sioux City, then a roundtable 70 miles east in Storm Lake, and finally another organizing event in the capital, Des Moines.

She's fighting to gain attention and support in what could be the most crowded Democratic presidential field ever; fighting the negative perceptions of her peculiar DNA test rollout showing a distant Native American ancestor; fighting an economic system she insists is rigged, on the heels of a hugely positive jobs report.

And fighting a cold that, by the time her third event of the day rolled around, left her voice almost completely strained.

"I regard that as a good omen," she said in Storm Lake. "I lost my voice when I first ran for the Senate, so there you go."

Warren, who formed a presidential exploratory committee at the end of 2018, hammered her message home all day: the American economy should work for everyone, not just the wealthy and well-connected. The minimum wage should be able to keep a working family afloat, she said, and students shouldn't be burdened with $1.5 trillion in loan debt.

Famed for her stern rhetoric about big banks and corporations, Warren simply said "Wells Fargo" at one point before the crowd of 700 in Des Moines drowned her out with boos.

She also hit standard Democratic notes on net neutrality ("I'm all in"), rolling back the Republican tax cuts ("For the billionaires and the big corporations, you bet!"), and support for vague immigration reform ("I’m willing to compromise. I know I won’t get everything I want.").

"It's about making structural change," she said. "Not a nibble here and a piece there. A lot of people say that's just too hard."

The 2020 Democratic primary has begun in earnest, and Warren's hiring of top Iowa campaign staffers and her three-day visit to the state—she will travel to Ankeny for a roundtable with local women's leaders on Sunday—showed she will be a force in the race.

Warren compared the efforts involved in how she wanted to remake America to those of the abolitionists, the suffragettes, and the civil rights movement.

"We are Americans, and we have a history of coming together to fight the hard fights," she said.

If polling is any indication, Warren faces the fight of her life to win the Democratic nomination in 2020. In spite of her high profile, she sat at just 8 percent support among likely Iowa caucus-goers in a CNN poll last month, behind Joe Biden (32 percent), Bernie Sanders (19 percent), and Beto O'Rourke (11 percent). Not finishing in the top-three in the first caucus state next February would likely be ruinous.

As if to remind Warren that the man in the White House looms large over this election, a Minnesotan Trump supporter was arrested outside her event in Storm Lake after a brief skirmish. Randal James Thom taunted Warren and brandished a pro-Trump sign as she greeted supporters. When one man grabbed at his sign, Thom hit him in the head with his selfie stick, leading to a swift arrest by security officers for disorderly conduct.

Nevertheless, Warren persisted in not discussing Trump by name unless specifically asked about him, although she got in a dig when asked about crop prices by an Iowa farmer.

"We need a trade policy that is not decided by tweet," she said to cheers.

Minnesota voter Jim Reinertson drove to Sioux City to see Warren and praised her avoidance of the president, who he scathingly referred to as "Individual One."

"Everyone, especially his base and the independents, are expecting Democrats to make the next two years all about tearing down the president, and I think that would be a [mistake,]" he told the Washington Free Beacon.

His top choice is Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), a potential 2020 candidate whose measured tone contrasts sharply with Warren's gesticulating manner on the stump.

Iowan Nicki Johnson, sporting a "Nevertheless, She Persisted" t-shirt, said she was undecided, but she too praised Warren for her conspicuous decision to not assail Trump.

"I think that's excellent," she said. "I think we need to have someone that's going to rise above that rhetoric, because the attacks won't stop, so we need a candidate that's in the vein of Obama that's going to be more hopeful and uniting, versus someone who's going to stoop to his level."

Rosslyn Scheideman came out to the Des Moines event with her daughter and praised Warren's advocacy for consumers, but she was also high on one billionaire who could be a 2020 candidate: Tom Steyer. Warren said last week that Democrats running for president should say "no to the billionaires" when it came to funding their campaigns.

"You can still be a billionaire and be compassionate," Scheideman said. "There aren't many in my opinion, but he seems to be and seems to get it."

Buena Vista County Democratic chair Jim Eliason moderated the panel discussion in Storm Lake between Warren and Storm Lake superintendent Dr. Stacey Cole, social worker Joanna Renteria Alvorez, and police chief Mark Prosser. It was Eliason's first time meeting Warren, who hadn't been to Iowa since 2014.

"She's very dynamic. She's very passionate, and she's extremely intelligent and knowledgeable," she said.

Eliason also explained to the Free Beacon what he meant when he called Warren "very shrill" in an interview with U.S. News and World Report last week. He was "kind of joking around" but stood by the comments, which he said came during a far more substantive discussion on political issues.

"When I said that she was kind of shrill, what I was talking about was yelling at bankers and so on," he said. "Some of those guys are crooks, and you've got to be able to scream at them. There's some really scummy politicians out there, like, in my opinion Donald Trump. Being shrill with them is I think entirely appropriate."

If Eliason has anything to say about it, Warren needs to keep coming to Iowa if she wants to be a force here.

"You show up. Come talk to people. I think that's really important. I think that matters," he said. "Iowans like to be talked to."