Massachusetts senator’s populism energises American left

Warren offers a credible alternative to Clinton among Democratic grassroots

Senator Elizabeth Warren: her family’s back-story of financial struggle and her attacks on Wall Street interests have drawn interest far outside her home state.  Photograph: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Senator Elizabeth Warren: her family’s back-story of financial struggle and her attacks on Wall Street interests have drawn interest far outside her home state. Photograph: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Sat, Jul 19, 2014, 18:36

One female Democratic politician is stirring the masses in the US and it’s not Hillary Clinton.

Elizabeth Warren, the senator and former Harvard law professor from Massachusetts, is generating support far from her liberal roots in the US northeast in places such as Michigan, Kentucky and Ohio with a populist anti-Wall Street message as she campaigns for fellow Democrats in November’s midterm elections.

The party is using Warren’s popularity on the left, and ability to energise crowds, to mobilise working-class voters angry with the growing income divide between America’s rich and everyone else, and the perception that Washington is in the pocket of corporate America.

At a time when middle-class Americans and the “working poor” are struggling with a minimum wage that is far out of kilter with the cost of living, Warren’s bandwagon is an appealing one to jump upon.

The 65-year-old politician is being cheered in places where Democrats have typically not been welcome and where she has no real ties. Her family’s back-story of financial struggle and her attacks on Wall Street interests have drawn interest far outside her home state.

Support for candidates

Since March the freshman senator has travelled as far as Minnesota and Oregon to lend her support to Democratic candidates, raising or donating $2.3 million for 28 candidates, according to her own team.

Last month, she passed through Kentucky on a two-day visit, attacking Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell in support of his Democratic rival, Kentucky secretary of state Alison Lundergan Grimes, with her brand of anti-establishment economic populism as she tries to help the party hold onto the Senate in this year’s elections.

Aside from McConnell being an obvious target as the next Senate leader if Republicans clock a net gain of six seats in November, Warren has history with the five-term senator. Senate Republicans blocked her Bill that would have allowed college graduates to reduce student loans in a move funded by closing tax loopholes for the wealthiest Americans.

“When you’ve got a choice between billionaires and students, Mitch McConnell says it’s important to protect the billionaires,” she said on her visit to Kentucky in her characteristic animated performance, with fingers stabbing the air.

In Washington this week Warren accused McConnell of asking students to “dream a little smaller”, blasting him for suggesting that college could be more affordable if young people lowered their expectations. “Not everybody needs to go to Yale,” he said last week.

The Warren locomotive stopped in Shepherdstown, West Virginia this week where she backed Democratic candidate Natalie Tennant against Republican rival Shelley Moore Capito as the party tries to keep the state blue. Again, Warren had a pop at a Republican candidate’s financial industry ties and the collapsed student loan Bill.

The mountain of student debt is an issue likely to motivate a somewhat sleepy constituency of voters, while the broader enthusiasm with which Warren is being received is similar to the excitement that embraced the American masses when another junior senator electrified progressive voters eight years ago – Barack Obama.

‘Not running for president’

Warren has said repeatedly that she is not running for president. “I am not running for president – do you want to put an exclamation point at the end of that?” she said in an interview last month.

This has not stopped Democrats chanting “2020” and “2016” when she appeared in West Virginia this week.

A new political action committee was formed, Ready For Warren, by her supporters this week to raise funds and try to convince her to run for the White House next time around.

Given her capacity to raise money for herself and others from a broad base, Warren could run a credible challenge to the out-and-out favourite Hillary Clinton who has taken a few missteps recently making her appear out of touch with blue-collar Democrat voters.

In an interview to publicise her recently released memoir Hard Choices, Clinton claimed to ABC News that she and her husband were “dead broke” when they left the White House in 2000. She later conceded that this was “an inartful use of words”.

In fact, just before his presidency ended, the Clintons were able to scrape together a cash deposit of $855,000 (€624,000) to buy a $2.85 million seven-bedroom home in a plush part of Washington DC.

It’s little wonder that Warren is winning fans as an alternative to Hillary among grassroots Democrats who, like the Massachusetts senator, have a different view of what “dead broke” means.

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