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Who is Elizabeth Warren – and could she be the USA’s first female president?

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Emily Reynolds
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Elizabeth Warren is one of the frontrunners to secure the nomination to take on Trump in the 2020 elections. But after suffering a setback in the New Hampshire primary, how will she move her campaign forward? 

In 2016, Hillary Clinton famously attempted to become the first female president in US history – and lost to Donald Trump

But in 2020, we could be seeing a different battle: Trump vs Elizabeth Warren.

The senator formally launched her presidential bid in Massachusetts back in February, and was the first high-profile Democrat to explicitly state her interest in running for the White House, shortly after launching an exploratory committee to raise funds for a presidential run. 

In a YouTube video announcing the launch of her exploratory committee, Warren explains that “if you work hard and play by the rules”, you should be able to “look after yourself and the people you love”: “that’s a fundamental promise of America”.

But many working families are unable to achieve their dreams, she says – particularly families of colour, whose paths are “steeper and rockier” due to generations of discrimination.

For the first time in the nation’s history, a record-breaking number of women declared their candidacies for the presidential election. They included Senators Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard, and spiritual leader and activist Marianne Williamson. (Only Gabbard and Klobuchar remain, alongside Warren.) 

With the presidential election cycle now in full swing, Warren has emerged as one of the frontrunners for her progressive proposals around student debt relief, higher education reform, universal childcare, affordable housing and increased taxes on the ultra-rich, as well as a pledge to protect reproductive rights at a time when abortion access is increasingly under threat

This week, Warren suffered a setback after she placed behind other potential Democratic nominees Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg in the New Hampshire primary. So, what happens to her campaign now? And who exactly is Elizabeth Warren? What does she stand for? How likely is she to win against Trump in 2020? 

What will happen to Elizabeth Warren’s campaign after the New Hampshire primary? 

Elizabeth Warren: what will happen to her campaign now?

The battle to clinch the Democratic nomination for the 2020 elections is on the final stretch. After what feels like years of campaigning, town halls, interviews and debates, the potential candidate field has narrowed down and those left standing are left to gather votes in the primaries.

It is at these primaries that members of the Democratic party vote for who they would like to see take on Trump in November, a decision that will ultimately be finalised at the Democratic convention in July.

Though Warren fared well in Iowa, coming in third with 18% of state delegates, equating to about eight national delegates, her campaign suffered a major setback in the New Hampshire primary. There, Warren placed behind three of her opponents: Sanders, Buttigieg and Klobuchar, with just 9.2% of the vote, equating to zero national delegates. (Sanders achieved 25.8%, Buttigieg 24.5% and Klobuchar 19.9%.) 

Warren vowed to “fight back”, and she continues to campaign for the nomination. “My job is to persist,” she told the New York Times

Elizabeth Warren
Elizabeth Warren’s campaign for president continues.

According to the newspaper, Warren’s campaign moving forward will focus on pitching the candidate as the “consensus” choice. Warren is well-liked across different factions of the Democratic party and the public. She has prioritised grass-roots campaigning and making connections with individual communities. 

With only two primaries down, there is still time for Warren to stake back her claim. She is still third in delegate count, with eight to her name, behind Buttigieg (22) and Sanders (21). Klobuchar is right behind her with seven delegates. 

Warren’s biggest blindspot, according to polling, is young progressives. In New Hampshire, she garnered only 6% of voters in the 18-29 age bracket, compared to 51% who voted for Sanders and 20% for Buttigieg. 

“She worked very hard, she’s an excellent candidate, great staff. Everything was there. But sometimes it just doesn’t add up,” explained Neil Levesque, director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Anselm College, to USA Today

Still, though, Warren continues to campaign. After her disappointing turnout in New Hampshire, Warren addressed her supporters via email. 

“Let’s face it: Last night didn’t go the way we wanted it to go,” she wrote. “Take a walk around the block, eat an extra piece of chocolate, hug your pet, adopt a pet, watch videos of cats and dogs who are friends, call a friend – whatever works. But once you’ve let it all out, take a deep breath, square your shoulders, and make a plan – a plan to fight back and win. A plan to help make sure that we won’t have to feel this way again.”

Who is Elizabeth Warren?

ORIGINALLY REPORTED 3 JANUARY 2019: Warren has had what NPR describes as  “a swift rise, if not a meteoric one, to political stardom”. After working as an academic at Harvard Law School for 20 years, Warren later oversaw the Troubled Asset Relief Program – a government programme designed to strengthen the financial sector after the 2008 crash. Alongside President Barack Obama, she also helped create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 

Starting her career as an elementary school teacher, Warren put herself through law school while bringing up her children. She later became an academic, working as a professor of law for 30 years.

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She was elected the Senator for Massachusetts in 2012, beating her Republican opponent Scott Brown with 54% of the vote. Her re-election in 2018 saw her beat her opponent by 24 points.

Warren has also written 10 books – on heavyweight subjects including bankruptcy, business and the struggling American middle class – and been named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world four times.

She was also the inspiration for the feminist slogan “nevertheless, she persisted” – a phrase originally uttered about Warren by Senator Mitch McConnell after she objected to Jeff Sessions’ appointment to Attorney General. 

What does she stand for?

Warren is passionate about the regulation of capitalism, and describes herself as a “consumer advocate”. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which she oversaw the creation of, attempted to “hold Wall Street banks and other financial institutions accountable”, and also aimed to protect consumers from the “financial tricks and traps often hidden in mortgages, credit cards and other financial products”. 

She places much emphasis on protecting the middle class, stating that large corporations should “pay a fair share in taxes… and are held accountable for breaking the law”. 

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Socially and economically, Warren is liberal – she’s also the third most anti-Trump senator in the House, voting with him only 13.1% of the time.

In the past, she has supported abortion rights, immigration reform, same-sex marriage and a lift on the ban preventing gay and bisexual men from giving blood. She has also expressed a desire to bring in more vigorous gun control and the legalisation of marijuana

Why does Trump call Warren ‘Pocahontas’? 

Warren has largely liberal views on social and economic issues

The accusations go way back. Warren first claimed Native American heritage in 1996, when Harvard Law School had been criticised for a lack of minority women on staff.  

She was later accused of making it up – but she told NPR that her family had told her she was part Cherokee. “These are my family stories,” she said. “This is our life. And I’m very proud of it.”

What she didn’t have, however, was documentation – leading Trump to latch onto the accusations and give her the mocking ‘Pocahontas’ nickname.

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In an attempt to shut down Trump’s criticism, Warren released the results of a DNA test in October 2018. The test showed that she had at least one Native American ancestor between six and 10 generations ago.

However, Warren was later criticised by some Native American groups and others on the left for playing into Trump’s hands – and for being unwittingly insensitive to indigenous ideas about who gets to belong to a Native American tribe.  

 Apart from Trump, who else is she up against?

Beto O’Rourke, one of Warren’s likely competitors

The crowd of potential Democratic nominees is packed. Warren was the first candidate to officially launch a bid of any kind and she is up against everyone from Bernie Sanders to Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Andrew Yang, Amy Klobuchar, Tulsi Gabbard and self-help guru Marianne Williamson. 

As it stands in February 2020, the frontrunners are Sanders, Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Biden. 

Can she really win the presidential election in 2020?

Warren with her husband Bruce Mann after announcing her potential presidential bid 

It’s hard to say, especially after her recent setbacks in the primaries. Polls do position her favourably and she’s often considered to be Sanders’ biggest competitor, with supporters of the two often overlapping. She also raised 56% of funding from donations under $200 – suggesting that she has a wide appeal with middle and working class voters. 

But Nathaniel Rakich at FiveThirtyEight say that Warren has “long polarised audiences” – perhaps because “she’s a woman with a confrontational style”. 

“Whatever the causes, Warren isn’t in the best starting position as she enters the fray,” Rakich writes. “But she’s not in the worst position either — she’ll likely find a receptive audience for her message in terms of policy and ideology. A well-run campaign would put her among the field’s top contenders.”

For now, we have to wait until July to find out if she will get the nomination. 

This story was originally published on 3 January 2019. 

Images: Getty

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Emily Reynolds

Emily Reynolds is a journalist and author based in London. Her first book, A Beginner’s Guide to Losing Your Mind, came out in February 2017 with Hodder & Stoughton. She is currently working on her second.  

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