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Opinion Warren is climbing, Sanders is panicking

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) campaigns in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on June 9. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News)

The national Monmouth poll is just the latest survey (national and state) showing Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) catching up and even inching ahead of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Former vice president Joe Biden is out in front with 32 percent but Warren is now at 15 percent, Sanders at 14 percent and Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) at 8 percent. Sanders is obviously a lot closer to Harris than to Biden.

Warren’s strength, if you look at the poll’s cross tabs, comes from liberals (25 percent vs. 17 percent for Sanders), women (Warren plus five points), older voters (plus eight) and especially those voters with a college degree (23 percent vs. 9 percent). This is hardly surprising given that Warren has batches of detailed plans, many designed to help women and children (e.g., subsidized day care, free college, black maternal mortality).

Many observers with no favored candidate say Warren is running the best campaign of any Democratic contender. Eschewing fundraisers, she has more time to campaign (famously willing to give anyone and everyone an autograph or a selfie) and, she said recently, to hold more than 100 town halls and take 2,000 questions. She appears the most energetic, most prepared and most accessible of the top candidates. She’s excited about all her plans — and that gets voters excited about her.

Warren has also taken her biography — which could have been problematic (Massachusetts law professor, afflicted with the Native American controversy) — and turned it into a plus. “Living on the ragged edge of the middle class” is how she describes her Oklahoma upbringing. Even after she climbed into the professional class as a teacher and then law professor, there are anecdotes that voters can relate to and explain her focus on certain issues. By the end of this campaign, everyone will know the story of Aunt Bee (seven suitcases and a Pekingese named Buddy, stayed 16 years) who came to bail her out when child-care problems could have dislodged her career). Somehow the ex-law professor and U.S. senator married to a Harvard law professor comes across as super approachable and someone who voters think understands their problems.

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Meanwhile, Sanders is being Sanders. Medicare-for-all. Wall Street is crooked. Socialism is our salvation. Democratic voters have not only heard this before, but, super-attuned to electability, have figured out that calling yourself a socialist is a gift to President Trump. And while he is “only” 77, he just looks a lot older than Warren, a spry 69.

Of course, when Sanders feels threatened by the media or by another candidate, he goes on the attack. He did it in the most unconvincing way possible, however:

Warren a lackey of corporate America?! No one outside his circle (and probably not all of them) think Warren is a tool of Big Business. In saying so, Sanders sounds desperate and reinforces just how far out of the mainstream Democratic Party he is. (If he thinks Warren is a corporate pawn, what does that make him?) In fact, if you’re trying to split the difference between progressives and centrists, you might select South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, not the woman with a zillion plans to expand the social welfare state.

Given this state of play, Warren may have lucked out being placed on the first night of debates without any competition from a top-tier candidate. She has the capacity to dominate the debate, leaving Sanders on night two to swing at the absent competitor who most threatens his campaign.

Women might think Warren has had to work twice as hard as some lightly prepared male candidates. If so, that might have been a blessing. She now stands out in the crowd as exceptionally hard-working, earnest, serious and lively.


Columnist George F. Will criticizes Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren for her pitch on how to get money out of politics. (Video: The Washington Post)

Read more:

Helaine Olen: Elizabeth Warren and the double standards for female leaders

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Elizabeth Warren is proving her doubters wrong

David Von Drehle: Elizabeth Warren’s jaw isn’t made of glass

Elizabeth Bruenig: So, what’s the difference between Warren and Sanders?

Karen Tumulty: Elizabeth Warren has something Hillary Clinton didn’t

Jennifer Rubin: This is Joe Biden’s real problem