Sen. Chris Murphy acknowledged he had the hardest job in Democratic politics on Wednesday: being the on-deck batter to Elizabeth Warren after she’d already cleared the bases at an all-day gathering of the progressive faithful.
“One of the hardest jobs in this town is following Elizabeth Warren,” Murphy, D-Connecticut, announced as he sat down to discuss gun-control policy with two youth activists at the annual Make Progress Summit.
He wasn’t the only one who felt that way. The crowd was still recovering after giving Warren, D-Massachusetts, a rousing ovation following her speech on student debt, delivered to over 1,000 young progressive activists at the JW Marriott in downtown Washington Wednesday.
The speech came a day after a new group, Ready for Warren, formally encouraged the senator to run for president in 2016, and before she delivered the keynote address at the progressive Netroots Nation conference in Detroit this morning. Warren’s speeches and their reception this week were indicative of the forces propelling her to an even more prominent stature in liberal circles: the activists in Washington and Detroit made clear their increasing urgency to make something more of her popularity.
“She talks to you like an adult and she recognizes how much potential is untapped in our generation, that we’re ready to start working on issues,” said Luke Squire, co-founder and co-director of Launch Progress, an organization that supports young public office candidates locally and nationally. “We’re tired of waiting in line for our turn.”
Warren’s focused, pointed speech Wednesday touched on the nuances of the debate over student loans and the debt that now ensnares upwards of 40 million across America. Warren proclaimed that she would think of student debt as “the tip of a spear,” raising her fist to rally the audience.
“We can’t wait for change. You are the ones who know,” she said. “When there’s tens of billions of dollars on the table, will the money be used to protect tax loopholes for millionaires and billionaires, or will it the used for people who are trying to get an education, trying to get a start in life?”
The dichotomy Warren suggested went a long way with activists yearning for strongly-principled progressives in Congress.
“She has maintained being this very fierce advocate on this issue that has appealed to us, so when young people see her, we actually know some things she stands for and has been working on for a long time,” Squire said.
Erica Sagrans, campaign manager for Ready For Warren, believes that compared to establishment Democratic figures like Vice President Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, Warren has a different approach to core liberal issues.
“I think the views she expresses are not necessarily accepted Washington views on things. There are different ways of being a fighter,” she said. “There are some people talking about similar policy positions, but the difference is the way she’s doing it.”
Other young attendees at the Progress Summit, such as Gabriela De Golia of the People for the American Way Foundation, were drawn to Warren’s economic logic, something she emphasized when criticizing Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and his recent comment to debt-conscious parents that, “Not everybody needs to go to Yale.”
Warren presented McConnell’s stance as antithetical to America’s entrepreneurial spirit.
“We will never build a better future by telling the best and brightest among us to give up on their dreams. We are not that nation; we have never been that nation, and we will never be that nation,” she said.
De Golia sees Warren’s lucid doggedness as her defining quality.
“Her tone and her language is a lot more accessible than a lot of other politicians. I think the fact that she’s a professor [means] she’s used to talking in terms that are very understandable. Young people really understand what she’s trying to convey,” she said. “I think young people read more about Sen. Warren and hear more from her on the issues they really care about.”
The Netroots speech in Detroit today came a day after Vice President Biden delivered a progressive rallying cry there – a speech similar to the one he gave the same day as Warren at the Make Progress Summit, which touched on his liberal credentials.
That the two are vying for attention and validation from the same crowds across America should come as no surprise to Democrats gearing up for 2016. But Warren, on Wednesday and this morning in Detroit, received a more rapturous reception from activists, signaling once again her unparalleled appeal among grassroots sections of her party.
At the Netroots conference, Warren was welcomed and interrupted with signs and chants of, “Run Liz Run!” She made sure to clarify once more her idea of a modernized progressive party, one that includes equal rights for workers, more attention to climate change, tougher rules on Wall Street, raising the minimum wage, stronger retirement benefits, and “real” net neutrality. She punctuated each idea with an emphatic, “We will fight for it!”
“The tilt in the playing field is everywhere. … The game is rigged,” Warren added. “This is a fight over economics, a fight over privilege, a fight over power. But deep down it’s a fight over values. These are progressive ideas; these are progressive values. These are America’s values. And these are the values we are willing to fight for.”
The enthusiasm over Warren comes at a time when most Democrats assume Hillary Clinton won’t encounter any kind of challenge in 2015 and 2016 for the Democratic nomination for president, especially with Warren reiterating her commitment to stay out of the race. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll had her at just 7 percent support among Democratic presidential contenders, with Hillary Clinton at 69 percent. The younger progressives at the Summit and in Detroit seemed to have other things in mind, as they did with then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008. After all, only 28 percent of Democrats in the ABC News poll want Clinton to run unopposed for the nomination.
Ready for Warren looks to replicate the success Howard Dean and Obama had in rallying new voters behind campaigns.
“I think we saw in 2007 and 2008 that Hillary seemed inevitable, and she wasn’t,” Sagrans said. “So this time, there’s a sense that if she runs it’s inevitable. She doesn’t have to be.”
If Warren did run?
“I think that would be great for our issues,” Squire said.