At the very end of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s MSNBC town hall on Wednesday night, host Chris Hayes asked Warren about all the people who say they like her, but are worried she couldn’t beat President Donald Trump in the general election.
Warren, and many of the other women candidates running in 2020, have been getting this question a lot lately: about whether or not they are “electable.” Warren’s response? Political conventional wisdom about presidents is often wrong.
“I remember when people said Barack Obama couldn’t be elected,” Warren responded. “I remember when people said Donald Trump couldn’t be elected. And here we are.”
Warren has a point; during this time in 2016, political pundits were treating Trump’s campaign as a joke, and talking about Jeb Bush as the frontrunner. And before he was elected president, Obama was a one-term senator from Illinois who was going up against Hillary Clinton. Fast forward to 2020, and the current frontrunner is Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden — the candidate voters and pundits so far view as the most “electable” to beat Trump.
“Metrics like authenticity and likability and electability are just code that we use against candidates who are not like what we are used to,” Christina Reynolds, the spokesperson for Emily’s List, a political organization that supports women candidates, told Vox’s Tara Golshan recently.
On Wednesday, Warren made it clear she believes the 2020 campaign is just starting, and she has many months to make her case about why she is the most electable to the American people.
“Elections are about getting in there and fighting for it and making clear to the American people what you stand for,” Warren said.
Warren is seeing a steady polling rise
Warren has had a good month, solidifying her standing in national polls near the top of the Democratic pack behind Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Warren is clearly someone not afraid to challenge Biden; she took direct shots at Biden’s past record on a 2005 bankruptcy bill he supported while in the Senate as soon as he entered the presidential race.
“I got in that fight because [families] just didn’t have anyone, and Joe Biden was on the side of the credit card companies,” Warren said in April, shortly after Biden announced. “It’s all a matter of public record.”
Before she can take on Biden on directly, Warren is first competing with Sanders to see who can capture more of the Democratic party’s progressive wing. She’s aided in that fight by being someone who Democratic voters recognize and like, per early polls, as Vox’s Dylan Scott explained.
Particularly at this early in the game, name recognition matters. Among the two dozen candidates, Warren is pretty clearly third behind Sanders and Biden in name recognition — and what voters have heard of her, they seem to like. Quinnipiac found 63 percent of Democrats have a favorable opinion of Warren, just 13 percent have an unfavorable opinion, with 23 percent saying they hadn’t heard enough about her.
Warren was better known than Kamala Harris (34 percent haven’t heard enough) and Beto O’Rourke (45 percent) and the rest of the field and she’s quite popular. Morning Consult similarly found her at 57 percent favorable, 16 percent unfavorable and 12 percent never heard of, putting her third in name recognition and favorability behind Biden and Sanders.
It’s not just name recognition — with the release of detailed policy plan after detailed policy plan, Warren’s campaign has a clear theme and purpose. She’s able to link many of these policies back to inequality everyday Americans face, and is bolstering her image as a grassroots politician by forswearing off corporate campaign contributions and PAC money.
It is certainly still an uphill climb for Warren, jockeying with Sanders and 21 other candidates to be the biggest Biden competitor. But for the time being, she has momentum on her side.