Elizabeth Warren: A woman with big plans

Who

: The Democratic senator from Massachusetts is the first of the big beasts to come out of the blocks for the 2020 presidential nomination. The progressive populist is a top-tier contender in a likely crowded field, probably vying for the same left-wing voters as Senator Bernie Sanders.

What: Warren has announced the first stage of a bid, setting up an exploratory committee.

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Age: 69.

Background: Warren has roots in Oklahoma and was a registered Republican until the mid-1990s. She previously taught law in Texas and Pennsylvania. As a Harvard law professor she focused on bankruptcy law and consumer protection.

Politics: After the 2008 financial crisis she was drafted by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to help oversee a US$700 billion bailout of the financial markets. She proposed the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She won a second six-year Senate term in November and has US$12.5 million in her Senate campaign account for a a presidential bid.

Advantages:

- She's a politician of depth.
Warren has released a number of proposals. Her ideas include a bill opposing corruption, a bid to give workers a say on company boards, affordable housing investment, and drug manufacturing reform. Warren has a years-long fighting stance against Wall Street, special interests and economic inequality. She will be a point of difference against more generic, unity-focused competitors.

- She should be able to get off to a good start.
Her home state neighbours New Hampshire, which holds the first primary in the nominating season. It is important to start well and gain momentum.

- She should be able to peel some supporters away from Sanders.
Although they are broadly part of the same liberal political territory, Warren is a party member not an independent like Sanders. She's not a self-identified democratic socialist. She also campaigned for, not against, Hillary Clinton in 2016. She should gain more support from party officials than Sanders.

- Her time could be now.
Women were elected in record numbers last year. Warren also has high name recognition and has been hitting the same issues for years. People know what she stands for. She can explain complex issues in an effective way and is an energetic, enthusiastic speaker. She could be seen as both experienced and a change agent.

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Disadvantages:

- Electibility could be a problem.
Polls show she lags in popularity. A USA Today poll showed that former Vice-President Joe Biden is the one to beat, at least at this stage. Of people polled 53 per cent were 'excited' to see him run for president and 24 per cent said he 'shouldn't run'. Warren's numbers were 27 per cent and 33 per cent. There is plenty of time to turn things around but the best way to lessen President Donald Trump's chances of re-election is to choose a Democrat with high likeability. Against a divisive candidate he has a much stronger chance of turning the contest into a mud wrestle that he could win through the advantages of incumbency and the Electoral College.

- Experience or change.
It is hard to know at this stage whether the electorate will want a generational change or not. The Democrats' best known candidates — Biden, 76, and Sanders, 77, and Warren — could be seen as too old. Or they could be seen as experienced enough to, in the Democrats' view, 'right the ship' after Trump. There is a group of competent midway possible candidates — such as Sherrod Brown, 66; Mitch Landrieu, 58, Amy Klobuchar, 58, and Kamala Harris, 54 — and more charismatic younger possibilities such as Cory Booker, 49 and Beto O'Rourke, 46. If Biden dominates, his running mate and expected successor could come from those groups.

- Trump factor.
The President has hounded Warren in the way he did Clinton, calling her 'Pocohantas'. Warren's attempt to put the issue of her Native American ancestry to bed with a DNA test did not appear to go well. Democrats want to build on confidence from the House of Representatives win in the Midterms, not have deja vu about 2016.

- Democratic coalition
The Democratic primary electorate is a mix of liberals, moderates, whites, African Americans and Hispanics. Women, young, and educated voters are key blocs. Candidates have to appeal outside of their faction to win. Both Barack Obama and Clinton consolidated their primary wins through the support of African Americans. Warren will have to prove attractive to minority voters, not just white liberals.