Elizabeth Warren May Be the Strongest Democratic Candidate

The Massachusetts senator is trending up in the polls and raising more money than most candidates.

Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts speaks at a campaign event in Las Vegas, Nevada, April 27
Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts speaks at a campaign event in Las Vegas, Nevada, April 27 (Gage Skidmore)

If 2016 taught me anything, it is not to make predictions. I don’t know who is going to win the Democratic presidential nomination in the United States, so take what follows with a grain of salt — and remember that we’re still more than half a year out from the Iowa caucuses, which will kick off the official nominating process in February. A lot can (and almost certainly will) change.

Former vice president Joe Biden is currently ahead. He is first in the national polls and the early voting state polls. He is also first in the endorsement primary, which measures support from elected officials. For Democrats pining for a restoration of the Obama era, Biden is the obvious choice.

I would put California senator Kamala Harris in second place. She is second in the endorsement primary and shares second place in national polls with Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. She made a strong impression in the first debate, but she has flipflopped twice on whether or not she would abolish private health insurance. This is not a trivial issue. Her vagueness on what many Americans rank as the number-one problem in their lives is worrying.

Sanders is probably in third place, but I don’t think he has a lot of potential for growth. I’m biased, though. I don’t like Sanders’ style. Whenever he is pushed for detail, he argues that a “political revolution” will make his far-reaching policy proposals somehow feasible. I prefer plans over slogans.

If I had to bet right now, I would put my money on Warren.

Strengths

  • Warren has been trending up in the RealClearPolitics average of polls since the end of April, from 6 to 15 percent. Biden and Sanders have both lost support in the same period.
  • The Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina state polls show the same trend.
  • Warren is also the second choice of many Democrats, placing only behind Biden. She is particularly well liked by voters who place Harris or Sanders first.
  • Warren has raised more money this year than any other candidate except Sanders: $35.6 million. Almost half her money comes from small donors, suggesting strong grassroots support. Biden and Harris, by contrast, get most of their money from big donors.
  • She’s setting the agenda by churning out plans for everything from affordable housing to rebuilding the State Department.
  • Unlike Hillary Clinton, who struggled to connect her many plans to an overarching vision, Warren’s diagnosis of what’s ailing America is clear: the middle class has been hallowed out by the 1 percent. Her solution is something of a New Deal that would transfer power and wealth from the top to the middle and the bottom.

Weaknesses

  • Warren is fifth in the endorsement primary, behind Biden, Harris, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar — although she is probably more acceptable to the party establishment than Sanders.
  • She has low support from black voters. Luckily for Warren, Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two primary states, are disproportionately white. But half the Democratic electorate in South Carolina is African American. Reporting from Politico and the Los Angeles Times suggests Warren is making inroads. She has to.
  • Even left-wing commentators characterize Warren’s immigration plan as “open borders”.
  • Warren wants to abolish private health insurance and enroll all Americans in a government-run system. This is bad policy (the best health-care systems in the world all have a role for private insurance) and bad politics (only 13 percent of voters want to get rid of private insurance). Seven in ten Americans see a role for government in health care and few trust Republicans to provide it. If they campaigned on abolishing private insurance, Democrats could throw away the enormous advantage they otherwise have on this issue.