Elizabeth Warren Takes A Big Step Toward Running For President

Begun, the 2020 campaign has.

On the last day of the year, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who had demurred on running for President in 2016 notwithstanding considerable pressure to enter the race, took a big step toward running for the Democratic nomination for President in 2020:

Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat and a sharp critic of big banks and unregulated capitalism, entered the 2020 race for president on Monday, becoming the first major candidate in what is likely to be a long and crowded primary marked by ideological and generational divisions in a Democratic Party desperate to beat President Trump.

In an 8:30 a.m. email to supporters on New Year’s Eve — 13 months before the first votes will be cast in the Iowa caucuses — Ms. Warren said she was forming an exploratory committee, which allows her to raise money and fill staff positions before a formal kickoff of her presidential bid. Ms. Warren also released a video that leaned on the anti-Wall Street themes, a campaign message that drew strong praise Monday morning from liberal groups.

“I’ve spent my career getting to the bottom of why America’s promise works for some families, but others, who work just as hard, slip through the cracks into disaster,” Ms. Warren said in the video. “And what I’ve found is terrifying: these aren’t cracks families are falling into, they’re traps. America’s middle class is under attack.”

“But this dark path doesn’t have to be our future,” she continued. “We can make our democracy work for all of us. We can make our economy work for all of us.”

The race for the 2020 Democratic nomination is poised to be the most wide open since perhaps 1992, with the party leaderless and lacking obvious front-runners. After a midterm election that saw many women, liberals, minorities and young Democrats win, the primaries and caucuses next year are likely to be fought over not only who is the most progressive candidate but also which mix of identities should be reflected in the next nominee.

Ms. Warren, 69, is among the best-known Democrats seeking to take on Mr. Trump, who has already announced his re-election campaign, but she also faces challenges: recent controversy over her claims to Native American heritage, skepticism from the party establishment and a lack of experience in a presidential race.

Two potential top-tier candidates who have run before, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Bernie Sanders, are eyeing 2020 and are expected to disclose their plans this winter. Yet both men carry political baggage and would be in their late 70s on Election Day 2020, and many Democrats say they want a fresh face as their next nominee.

More than three dozen Democratic senators, governors, mayors and business leaders are also weighing bids — most of whom have not sought the White House before. The race is expected to draw several women and nonwhite contenders as well as liberal and more moderate politicians — making for the most diverse field in history. Several Senate colleagues of Ms. Warren are likely to enter the race soon: Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

Getting a jump on the competition, Ms. Warren plans to head to early voting states in the coming weeks, including Iowa, which holds its first-in-the-nation caucus in early February 2020. According to a person familiar with Ms. Warren’s thinking, the timing of her announcement had been decided weeks in advance.

Ms. Warren’s announcement drew immediate praise from liberals, who have long hoped that the vocal Trump critic would run for president.

Among grass-roots activists eager to highlight their message of a rigged economic system, there was particular excitement that Ms. Warren’s announcement video focused on issues like income inequality and corporate greed. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee said “Elizabeth Warren meets the moment” and Waleed Shahid, a spokesman for the leftist group, Justice Democrats, said Ms. Warren’s “message of multiracial populism is exactly the right way to take on Trump’s divide and conquer agenda,” though lacking policy specifics.

Warren’s announcement came via a YouTube video that was released via the usual social media networks:

While this isn’t a formal announcement of her candidacy, it is what qualifies as the next best thing and stands as confirmation that has largely been an open secret for the better part of the past year. As a legal matter, forming an exploratory committee allows a candidate to begin raising money that can potentially be transferred to a campaign if and when they decide to formally enter the race. In the past, it’s a mechanism that has been used by many candidates to allow them to “campaign” and fundraise without actually entering the race. In some cases, of course, the hypothetical candidate never actually enters the race but in most cases they do, but they do so later in the process at a time and in a manner that has been carefully choreographed for maximum media exposure.

In Warren’s case, this announcement doesn’t come as much of a surprise. As I noted, Warren resisted efforts to get her to enter the 2016 race that were being made by several “progressive” groups even after it was apparent that Hillary Clinton would be running that year, and even after Warren publicly urged Clinton to enter the race. As 2020 approached, and especially after the election of President Trump, pressure grew on Warren to consider jumping into the race for the nomination. Initially, Warren, who was up for re-election this year, denied any interest in running for President but declined to rule out the possibility that she would do so. By October, that had changed significantly and Warren was saying that she would “take a hard look” at running after the election was over. Obviously, the decision to form an Exploratory Committee is a huge step toward entering the race and a likely indication that she is in fact running.

In any case, Warren is just the first of what is likely to be a large group of candidates or potential candidates either entering the race or exploring the possibility of doing so. It’s far too early to say how many of those candidates will end up being viable and competitive, but many of them will and this means that Democrats are likely to face one of the largest fields of Presidential candidates they’ve ever had. In addition to presenting interesting implications for things like debate scheduling and format, it also sets up the possibility of a significant battle for the most vocal wing of the Democratic Party. Warren, of course, is among the candidates championed by the “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party, but she is by no means the only potential candidates arising from that side of the party. Others include Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown, Amy Klobuchar and, of course, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. All of these candidates, and perhaps more, are likely to be competing for this same group of voters. Whether Warren or any of the other potential candidates are able to succeed will depend in no small part on their ability to differentiate themselves from each other in the competition for this wing of the party.

In any case, I suppose we can say that the race for 2020 has officially begun. Hold on to your hats, folks.


FILED UNDER: 2020 Election, Democracy, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    The DNA test was a fatal mistake. I said it was at the time. It showed me she doesn’t know how to deal with Trump. It showed me she could be bullied.

    We have about two dozen potential candidates. I like Senator Warren and would love to see her remain in the Senate. If she’s the nominee I’ll support her happily, but I believe her moment has passed.

  2. I know that the conventional wisdom is that she messed up with the DNA test and I can see the argument for that position. In the end, though, I honestly don’t see it being a big deal or a dealbreaker among Democrats. In fact, the only people I see who keep bringing this whole Native American issue up are conservatives who are never going to vote for her and those who think that calling her “Fauxcahontas” or “Pocahontas” is funny or that it scores political points.

    I don’t see it being a big issue on the Democratic side of the aisle, but maybe I’m wrong.

    That being said, I think she’s going to have a hard time up against other candidates who appeal to the same wing of the party as she does.

  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    The DNA test was the equivalent of the Canadian girlfriend. When the bully calls you gay the winning response is not, “I have a girlfriend but she lives in Canada that’s why you never see her.” You don’t defend, you counterattack. You refuse to fight on the enemy’s turf, you define your own battlefield. Or, in writer terms: never let the other guy set the narrative.

    That’s why I think it was fatal. It’s not that Democrats are all thinking, ‘never let the other guy set the narrative,’ but rather, I suspect, they’re feeling a vague discomfort with her because they intuitively sense that it was a weak response. With this many candidates it’s going to get pretty unforgiving out there. Add in the fact that she’s old, and that she is not a great public speaker, and that there are others carrying a similar policy message, and I don’t see this working for Senator Warren.

  4. Scott F. says:

    Warren says in the video:

    “America’s middle class is under attack. How did we get here? Billionaires and big corporations decided they wanted more of the pie. And they enlisted politicians to cut them a fatter slice.”

    Warren’s skill with expressing political ideas in a way that resonates with people is the big reason she is so popular on the left. As a counter to the 1%ers tax cut and the regulation cutting that are the only things the Republicans have to show for the last two years, it’s hard to imagine a more on point message than what I cite above.

    I hope she stays in the Senate where she’ll be powerful should, as is likely with the contested seats in 2020, the Democrats retake the chamber. But, I wouldn’t mind at all having Warren out on the stump setting the rhetorical tone as this thing gets going. As one of the activists quoted said, she “meets the moment.”

  5. grumpy realist says:

    I’d rather have her stay in the Senate terrorising sleazy CEOs. But her statements are great enough that I’d love to see a Sanders-Warren axis get going in the Democratic party. We need someone like Teddy Roosevelt and his trust-busting instincts.

  6. Tyrell says:

    I have respect for Senator Warren, a person who has gone through some tough times. She has taken on the large banks: fine, but my credit card rate is still very high. I would want her to do something with the powerful Federal Reserve, which seems untouchable.
    I would want to see some details about what she would do, and not rehashed ideas from some faculty lounge discussions.
    What will she do for the working class people out here? We need lower taxes and less government. We need our industries brought back. Some textile mill here has actually reopened: that’s progress. Gas is $1.79/gal. We would like to keep it there. I can walk up the street and have a job in fifteen minutes. New house construction is increasing.
    “Help wanted – start immediately”

  7. Michael Reynolds says:


    What will she do for the working class people out here? We need lower taxes and less government.

    It continues to amaze me that people still believe this. Working class people do not pay significant income taxes. They pay SS and Medicare which are in effect retirement plan contributions and insurance premiums.

    As for ‘less government’ what does that mean in practical effect? California and Texas have identical unemployment rates despite the fact that CA is regulation central, and in Texas you’re free to poison your neighbor’s water. Less government = more pollution, fewer protections for workers, more power and money for the already powerful and wealthy. It’s brainwashing, pure and simple, a way to get working people to screw themselves.

  8. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    I keep looking for reasons that I need to go back to voting. Seeing this doesn’t encourage me at all.

    Allow me to elaborate: The county in which I live in Washington State is 70% GOP (when I moved here, it was 65% Democrat, but that’s a job for a political scientist to fathom out the why’s of). This factor is off set by the fact that our population is about 5% of the population of heavily Democratic Pugetropolis, maybe 20% of heavily Democratic Inland Empire Spokane, and less than half of moderately Democratic Yakima Valley, so we don’t count for much in the big picture no matter how outbalanced the distribution is. Moreover, our Republican representatives in the city, county, and state governments are mostly not noxious to speak of. The higher they are placed, the stupider they are, but that’s a feature, not a bug and has been that way in Washington for a long time with both parties (there’s a reason Scoop Jackson was not nominated back in the sixties).

    Long story shorter, I’m not seeing any particular reason to become excited about supporting a Democratic party in the thrall of Boomers who are dying off, though not quickly enough.

    Although I mostly voted GOP in the past–but have never voted for a Democrat or a Republican for national office since 1976–the GOP is simply too crazy for me to support. Carolyn Long was the Democrats best chance to take that seat in a long time and lost by 6%. As a Representative, Ms. Herrera is, again, stupid but neither noxious nor malicious and is a low-profile woman in a boy’s locker room party. She simply doesn’t count except as a vote and will matter less than she has in the new House.

    Democrats, check back with me when you’ve decided who you are other than “my generation”–it’s not enough to sway me at my age, but at least I won’t work against you overtly.

  9. Gustopher says:

    She will cut into Bernie Sanders’ support, and hopefully make him withdraw sooner. Less time listening to BernieBros is a service to ur country.

    Thank you, Senator Warren.

  10. Mr. Prosser says:

    I want a younger candidate running for president. I hope she either stays in the senate or becomes a member of the new president’s cabinet.

  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    There are various policy reasons I could cite for voting Democratic, but I’ll just mention one: we defend minorities. Should that matter to people who are not themselves a member of a minority? Yes, it should.

    First as a simple question of morality: in this polarized world the GOP has become the party of white power. Failure to resist that is immoral. It’s the cowardly ‘good German’ option.

    Second, because even if you aren’t in a minority you will have friends and relatives who are.

    Third, because long-term national stability will not survive, our very Constitution and way of life will not survive, a whites vs. everyone else future.

    The GOP is no longer just wrong on policies (or right, depending on your POV) they are now a force for evil. You can stand against that or not, that’s your decision to make. The most effective way to end the GOP assault on minorities is to vote Democratic.

    When the Trump GOP has been defanged, do what you want, but we are in an emergency situation with a very dire future being planned for us by people like Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon. Our best weapon as decent people is the vote, and the only effective way to wield that at this point is to vote D. I take your point that in WA it may not matter much to the outcome, (same here, of course) but every R vote is a reassurance to bad men that they can go on doing bad things, and every D vote scares them.

    One other point which you may reject: because you and I are white males we have a particular obligation. The country needs to see that people like us are not with the haters. That’s ‘our people,’ white guys, who fan the flames of white power. I don’t find it acceptable at a time like this to stay on the sidelines.

  12. Scott F. says:
  13. Gustopher says:

    I do like Elizabeth Warren, and think she would make a great President, and that she has the ability to connect with people and explain things simply and without talking down to them — you don’t need to be an electrical engineer to buy a toaster that doesn’t shock you, and you shouldn’t have to be a financial analyst to get a mortgage that doesn’t screw you (paraphrasing). She’s really good when she can get people to listen to her.

    The DNA thing was silly, but mostly harmless. She got a few eye rolls on the left, a bit of a schooling on what heritage means from the Native Americans, and changed nothing on the right. Better to make mistakes early rather than later. We will see whether she has learned from it.

    I hope someone younger beats her. Someone even better, who hasn’t had the same platform Warren has had up until now. I mean, of course, Hickenlooper. I await Hickenlooper Mania, where he suddenly becomes the progressive champion that no one suspected he could be.

    But until that happens, a year out of the primaries, Warren is my top, mildly informed, mildly ignorant choice.

  14. Gustopher says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Long story shorter, I’m not seeing any particular reason to become excited about supporting a Democratic party in the thrall of Boomers who are dying off, though not quickly enough.

    Everything @Michael Reynolds wrote, plus this:

    You don’t have to be excited. In Washington State, I’m pretty sure you don’t even need a stamp.

    Excitement would be great, but voting for less evil is fine. Not great, not even good, but fine. Just fine. Not better than fine.

    Sometimes just fine is the best option.

    Unless you’re one of those people who thinks it has to get worse before it can get better, in which case, you might want to vote for Trump.

  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: In Washington State, and particularly in my county, I get fine now. National I have no control over, so I have decided to no longer become exercised about the evil that the GOP does. If you are into the symbolism of voting, well and good and go in peace. I’ve not been voting nationally for the national parties all my life. I no longer see the point of making a protest vote–either as a Democrat in a profoundly Republican area (where 85% of eligible voters are registered, I might add) or as a surly curmudgeon/*independent*. YMMV and you are welcome to have it do so, I truly support you, Reynolds, and anyone else doing what they believe is productive. I have nothing productive to offer at the polls anymore. Probably never did as I’ve always made protest votes.

    I’m just here to watch the car crashes and add observations/troll where I find interest in doing so.

  16. Guarneri says:

    I’d put her odds of winning at about 1 in 1024………….

  17. Pylon says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: as a 55 year old and technically a Boomer, I’m not hoping to die off that quickly.

  18. Ben Wolf says:

    @Gustopher: If you want to break your party in two, keep thinking that way.

  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Pylon: At 55, I didn’t think that way either. At 66 and severe COPD, my view is not so sanguine.