Is Elizabeth Warren the next Barack Obama?
The New Republic argues in a cover story published on Monday that if she chooses to run, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren could upset Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary, much as Barack Obama did in 2008, by winning over Democratic voters who either don’t like Clinton or feel she is insufficiently liberal.
The magazine says Warren’s populist, anti-Wall Street views are the 2016 version of Obama’s early opposition to the Iraq War. And as the magazine notes, there are already signs that Warren, not Clinton, is the favorite of the most liberal people in the Democratic Party.
But there are two problems with the analogy between Warren and Obama as the anti-Hillary candidates. The first and most obvious is the role of black voters. Obama won in 2008 over Clinton because of four key factors: an anti-Clinton bloc of establishment figures who could provide support, credibility and most important money for Obama’s insurgent campaign; Obama’s own unique appeal to Democratic voters, in part because of his anti-war position; his campaign successfully out-organizing Clinton in key states, particularly those that held caucuses; and that 90 percent of blacks voted for him in some key primaries.
Obama, to be sure, did not win the nomination only because he is black. But his overwhelming support among African-Americans was the main factor in many of the primaries he won in 2008, particularly in states in the South with large black populations and relatively few white Democrats.
For example, according to exit polls, Obama finished behind both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards among white voters in South Carolina’s primary in 2008. But an estimated 55 percent of the state’s Democratic primary electorate was black, and Obama won 78 percent of those voters. In Georgia’s primary, Clinton won 53 percent of the white vote to Obama’s 43 percent, but Obama won 88 to 11 percent among blacks.
There is limited polling about Clinton’s current standing among African-Americans and almost none about Warren’s. But Clinton’s 82 percent favorability rating (according to a December 2012 Pew survey) among African-Americans suggests she starts from a strong place.
There is little reason to think Warren will dominate among blacks as Obama did, and so her ability to follow his 2008 model is severely hampered in that sense.
The other challenge for Warren is that the difference between her views and Clinton’s on the economy are not yet as stark as Obama opposing an ill-conceived war in Iraq that Clinton voted for while in Congress. Warren, perhaps more than any other figure in today’s Democratic Party, has sharply opposed the economic vision of the centrist, Bill Clinton-era Democrats, many of whom now hold key positions in President Obama’s administration. And the rise of Bill de Blasio in New York City illustrates that some Democrats are ready for the kind of forceful, rich vs. poor message that neither of the Clintons nor Obama is entirely comfortable with.
But it’s not clear that the Clinton-Obama stewardship of the economy is considered a mistake universally by Democrats, as the Iraq War was by 2008.
None of this is to say Warren can’t win in 2016. Clinton is far from a perfect candidate, which is why she is not president now. And it’s not 100 percent certain Clinton will run anyhow. But for now, Warren is not as well-positioned as Obama was in 2007. (You can see here I have a decent record at predicting these kinds of results.)