The media isn’t organized enough to coordinate behind a candidate even if we wanted to (which, to be extremely clear, we don’t). But beyond Warren’s genuinely newsworthy rise in the polls and her status as the clearest alternative to Joe Biden, it’s true that Warren’s campaign and candidacy are built to resonate with the “Organization Kids” who populate the national media. And many journalists either match the demographic profile of her base or live around people who do. She’s not the only candidate who fits this profile, but it’s helping her in the press. That might in turn help her win the nomination, but only if her appeal continues to expand.
Warren’s basic pitch is premised on plans: She wants to be the candidate who has both a grand vision for what American society should look like and proposals for how to make it happen. Unlike Biden, the case for her candidacy isn’t that she’s the most electable Democrat. And she isn’t trying to win the nomination on sheer force of personality. Rather, Warren is trying to combine the insider experience of regulator and senator with the anti-corruption, anti-corporate style of an outsider.
Journalists love covering a campaign based on policy ideas, rather than issues such as electability and style that they see as lesser or maybe even distasteful. Voters often don’t take this view of politics: Especially since faced with the prospect of a second Trump term, Democratic primary voters have clearly said they care about electability. And voters don’t just divide on clean, ideological lines — cultural attitudes, demographics and other non-policy factors shape each candidates’ coalition. But Warren’s view of politics closely matches the prevailing media view of what politics “should” be.
And, as CNN analyst Harry Enten astutely pointed out, many journalists live near people who fit into what has become Warren’s key demographic — generally upscale, white liberal Democrats — or have some of those attributes themselves. Enten correctly noted that that dynamic could lead the national press to overestimate South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a veteran and Rhodes scholar. With Buttigieg lagging in the polls and Warren gaining ground, Warren is getting the benefit of these demographic headwinds among reporters.
Maybe most significantly, Warren also matches an upscale cultural image of who the president should be. Many in the media followed a specific academic and professional path: We did our homework, took tough classes, competed on the high school speech and debate team, maybe went to an elite college, got a white-collar job and earned institutional validation all along the way. Warren and Buttigieg are the real-life images of that version of success, in which ambitious, academically accomplished, culturally refined people work extremely hard within institutions to achieve “meritocratic” recognition. Other Democrats fit the bill, too: Cory Booker was a Rhodes scholar, as well; Amy Klobuchar is a Yale- and University of Chicago-educated lawyer; and Julián Castro interned in the Clinton White House while at Stanford University. But they haven’t targeted the demographic many members of the media happen to fall into as clearly as Warren and Buttigieg have.
That has helped Warren and Buttigieg. In a fractured field such as this, media coverage is crucial and positive coverage is a big advantage. The media darlings have a mixed record of success: Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush never became the GOP nominees, Beto O’Rourke isn’t a U.S. senator, and Hillary Clinton isn’t president. But Barack Obama won in 2008 and 2012, and Democrats took back the House in 2018 by beating Republicans in upscale suburban districts. If Warren wants to do the same, she needs to make sure her coalition continues to grow. Journalists may be a constituency with outsize influence, but there are fewer of us every year.