This article is the fifth in a series called White House Wednesday, by the staff of The World and Everything in It, looking at potential 2016 candidates for president. Earlier installments profiled Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Vice President Joe Biden, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and Congressman Paul Ryan.
Hillary Clinton’s surprising defeat by then-freshman Sen. Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential primaries seemed like a political lightning strike. But it could happen again if enough Democrats get behind another freshman senator who has broad popular appeal: Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
In 2012, Warren won 54 percent of the vote to reclaim for Democrats the senate seat once held by the late Ted Kennedy. The 65-year-old mother of two became Massachusetts’ first female senator.
While 2012 was Warren’s first campaign for public office, she’d already had a hand in public policy for several years. In 2008, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid picked Warren, then a Harvard Law professor, to chair a panel overseeing the Troubled Asset Relief Program. TARP was the federal government’s $700 billion bank bailout effort. Warren’s panel monitored the program and provided recommendations to Congress and the White House on financial regulations. Shortly thereafter, she helped design a powerful new federal agency created to enact more government regulation of financial markets.
Taking it to the corporate fat cats has been Warren’s rallying cry from day one. She brought the crowd at the 2012 Democratic National Convention to its feet with this message: “Wall Street CEOs, the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs, still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors and acting like we should thank them. Does anyone here have a problem with that?”
Warren’s populist appeal has helped make her a hero among the Democrats’ liberal base. And she has a credible claim to a blue-collar message. She grew up in a middle class family, the daughter of a carpet salesman who ended up in maintenance. After her father had a heart attack, Warren’s mother worked the phones at Sears so the family could keep its house.
Warren was a star on her high-school debate team and won a debate scholarship to George Washington University. She became the first member of her family to graduate from college and went on to earn a law degree from Rutgers University. She taught for a time as a public school teacher before becoming a lawyer and later teaching law.
While her background has largely been a political strength, partof her personal story proved problematic during her 2012 campaign against Republican Sen. Scott Brown.
In April 2012, the Boston Herald reported that Harvard Law School officials once touted Warren’s Native American ethnicity as proof of their faculty’s diversity. But the blond-haired, blue-eyed Warren has never offered documentation of her ethnicity, saying family members simply told her about it.
Before being awarded a teaching position at Harvard, Warren was required to fill out a detailed questionnaire, specifying, among other things, her race. Ethnicity is one of the factors weighed in the application process. Throughout the campaign, Brown challenged Warren to make that application public to make sure she didn’t have an unfair advantage when she was hired. She never released that document, and others will surely repeat Brown’s challenge if Warren launches a White House bid.
The main threat Warren poses to Clinton comes from her populist appeal, which stands in increasinglystark contrast to way Clinton’s image is shaping up.
Clinton made herself seem out-of-touch a few months back when she remarked her family was “dead broke” when they left the White House. Then she made it worse by saying they were not like the truly wealthy because they made their money through hard work, when in fact, they earned most of their fortune through eye-popping public speaking fees.
The sheltered, detached life Clinton has lived for many years is becoming a punchline, even in the mainstream media. After a Good Morning America segment listing Clinton’s lavish requirements for public speaking contracts, a news anchor quipped, “Did she specify which color M&Ms she’d like?”
Though Clinton is the clear frontrunner on the Democratic side, the door is cracked open for another candidate. If she takes on any morewater, politically, that door could swing wide open for a candidate like Elizabeth Warren.
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