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Elizabeth Warren holds advantages over Bernie Sanders in potential 2020 clash of liberal titans

October 4, 2018

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s “hard look” at running for president in 2020 will likely take her straight through the same ground occupied by Sen. Bernard Sanders.

Ms. Warren brings similar liberal politics to Mr. Sanders, who finished a surprisingly strong second in the 2016 Democratic nomination contest, but the 69-year-old Massachusetts Democrat has some advantages over the 77-year-old Vermont independent: She is younger, she is a woman and she has been more loyal to the party.

With party activists increasingly looking for a revolution from within, that could help Ms. Warren push out Mr. Sanders.

“I think Elizabeth Warren is much more appealing in the way that she is able to bring people on board with some of these progressive policies,” said Chris Taylor, chairman of the Johnson County Iowa Democrats, which has invited Ms. Warren to appear at events this fall.

“I think [Mr. Sanders] always embraced his position as an outsider and for some of the folks who have dedicated their lives to the Democratic Party, specifically, I think having an option like Sen. Warren, who has those policies as part of her agenda, but is also seen as someone who fought for years for the Democratic Party, will help bridge that gap,” Mr. Taylor said.

Ms. Warren confirmed over the weekend what most of Washington already assumed: She is pondering a White House campaign. She said she will make a decision after midterm elections in which she is running for a second term as a senator from Massachusetts.

“After Nov. 6, I will take a hard look at running for president,” she said, enthralling her backers. “I think we can do it. I think we can turn this country around.”

Trying to build a better public persona, she has cooperated on an extensive story in her hometown paper, The Boston Globe, to try to clear up past claims of American Indian heritage.

She also has started to take questions on the fly from reporters at the Capitol, where for years she race-walked past the pack of press looking for her comments on news of the day.

Scott Ferson, a Massachusetts-based Democratic strategist, said the timing of Ms. Warren’s announcement could be aimed at political power brokers in Massachusetts who might otherwise be coaxed into backing former Gov. Deval Patrick or former Secretary of State John F. Kerry if they decide to run. But Mr. Sanders should also pay attention, given their similar political messaging.

“I think that is the space she occupies, and frankly between the two of them she is a much stronger candidate,” he said. “She is younger, she is a woman, she has some real bona fides to point to, and, this is an actual plus, she is an actual Democrat.”

Mr. Sanders has signaled an interest in running again, which would force liberal activists to pick sides.

“It is going to be hard choice for them if it is Bernie and Elizabeth both in the race,” said Vikki Brown, chair of the Black Hawk County Iowa Democrats.

A massive field of fellow Democrats eyeing the race includes members of Congress, former Obama Cabinet officials and outsiders from the business world.

“It is not just Elizabeth Warren; it is literally a couple dozen Democrats who seemed to get up one morning, look in the mirror and said, ‘You can be president,’” said James Zogby, a member of the Democratic National Committee and a Sanders loyalist. “It is not just on the progressive wing that there will be competition; there will be competition everywhere.”

Likely contenders are setting their sights on early primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Sen. Cory A. Booker of New Jersey is slated to deliver the keynote address Saturday at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Fall Gala. Ticket prices range from $25 for a bleacher seat to $10,000 for a table for 10 at a dinner.

Rep. John K. Delaney of Maryland and entrepreneur Andrew Yang are running. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Rep. Eric Swalwell of California and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg of Indiana have made appearances in Iowa. Billionaire Tom Steyer and Michael Avenatti, the attorney for porn actress Stormy Daniels, also have been on the ground.

Bovada, an online oddsmaker, puts Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California at the top of the Democratic pack with 9-2 odds. The next best odds were for Mr. Sanders and Mr. Biden, both at 6-1 favorites, followed by Ms. Warren at 9-1.

Mr. Trump, speaking at a campaign rally this week in Tennessee, said he would relish a showdown with Ms. Warren.

“She said she’s considering a run for the presidency,” Mr. Trump said. “Please, please run.”

Ms. Warren’s most memorable moment was in the Senate last year when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, used a little-known rule to cut her off in the middle of a speech for impugning then-Sen. Jeff Sessions during his nomination to be attorney general. Ms. Warren was reading a decades-old anti-Sessions letter from Coretta Scott King accusing the Alabama Republican of racist motives.

Defending his move, Mr. McConnell said: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

That became a rallying cry for Ms. Warren, and Democratic activists rushed to print “Nevertheless, she persisted” on buttons and T-shirts.

More recently, it has been Ms. Warren’s younger colleagues such as Ms. Harris and Mr. Booker who have energized liberal activists with high-profile clashes with Trump administration figures. Mr. Booker released confidential memos during Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, declaring himself “Spartacus” for his defiance of the rules.

Political analysts will be watching midterm elections for signs of whose politics performs better.

The Florida governor’s race is cast as a contest between a Trump apostle Republican and a Sanders-style Democrat. Meanwhile, Warren acolyte Richard Cordray, who ran the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the Obama administration, is seeking the governorship in Ohio, putting Warren-style politics to the test in a major presidential battleground.

Mo Elleithee, executive director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service, said Mr. Sanders and Mrs. Warren would offer voters different styles.

“I think she tends to bring a more optimistic populist message to the table, and he brings more of an angry populist message to the table and frankly, there is space for both of those, and people who respond to each of those,” said Mr. Elleithee, a former DNC spokesman.

Mr. Zogby said he doesn’t buy the argument that being a female and loyal Democrat gives Ms. Warren an edge over Mr. Sanders, who has won the Democratic Senate nomination in Vermont only to reject it and run as an independent.

Mr. Zogby said Mr. Sanders appeals to working-class voters who abandoned the party in 2016 and has brought people into the fold by driving a platform that includes Medicare for all. Plus, he has campaigned with Democrats in competitive races across the country and served in the leadership post that Senate Democrats carved out for him after the 2016 election, he said.

“As much as I appreciate the leadership that Sen. Warren has played before she came to the Senate and then during her Senate career on critical issues facing the economy and other domestic concerns as well, I think that Bernie is for me a leader I trust, somebody who has trusted me and worked with me, and I just feel there is no choice between the two,” Mr. Zogby said. “It is not even a close call for me.”

Still, there are signs that, at least in this moment, the excitement for Ms. Warren is eclipsing that of Mr. Sanders, including in the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire, where the profile picture on state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark’s Facebook page is a photograph of her chatting with Ms. Warren that was uploaded in September 2016.

Ms. Clark was the only “superdelegate” from New Hampshire to vote for Mr. Sanders at the Democratic National Convention two years ago.

Ms. Clark did not respond to requests for comment.

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