Let the 2020 games begin: Warren launches presidential campaign

It’s not even quite 2019, and yet Elizabeth Warren just made the first major move in the 2020 presidential sweepstakes. After quietly changing her Twitter handle over the weekend to remove the reference to Massachusetts, Warren sent out a video to supporters this morning announcing the launch of an exploratory committee for a run at the Democratic presidential nomination. The video features Warren’s populist message as well as her biography … or at least some of it:

Warren’s announcement that she was establishing an exploratory committee — the legal precursor to a run — came as other candidates, including several of her fellow senators, made final preparations for their own announcements, some of which are expected in days.

“America’s middle class is under attack,” Warren said in a four-minute, 30-second video emailed to supporters Monday. “How did we get here? Billionaires and big corporations decided they wanted more of the pie. And they enlisted politicians to cut them a bigger slice.”

The video is part biographical, showing her hardscrabble Oklahoma upbringing; part economics lesson, replete with charts illustrating how the middle class is losing economic ground; and part red meat for the Democratic base with images of President Trump and others disliked by liberals: presidential aides Kellyanne Conway and Stephen Miller and former adviser Stephen K. Bannon.

It’s “part biographical,” but it’s hardly a complete biography. Guess what Warren leaves out of the discussion? High cheekbones:

It made no mention of a recent Warren stumble: her October decision to release results of a DNA test that said she probably had a distant Native American ancestor. The move had been meant to stifle Trump’s criticism of her but only engendered more mockery from him, while also angering Democrats, particularly minorities who objected to her defining ethnicity via a test.

That’s no surprise, but avoidance won’t solve her problem. Regardless of whether Warren mentions it or not, she’ll be running in the shadow of that foolish move throughout the campaign and likely the rest of her political life. What does seem a bit surprising is the quality of the video, which has her literally in the shadows in her announcement. The voice-over and editing look fine, but the part with Warren on camera is not well lit and isn’t particularly well set either. There’s a bright light in the background, and there are shadows on her face. Warren almost looks washed out, without much contrast from the kitchen in which this was shot. It has the look of a rushed production, or at least one without much thought put into presentation.

It’s not that Warren lacks resources, Politico notes:

The 69-year-old was just reelected to a second term in the Senate and is to be sworn in this week. She has assembled a staff of more than 70 people already, and the $12.5 million in her campaign account puts her on solid footing ahead of a likely campaign.

Launching the exploratory committee gives Warren a legal mechanism to ramp up fundraising and officially lock down key operatives in early states whom her team has courted for weeks. If she fully takes the plunge, the senator is expected to make a more robust presidential campaign announcement at a later date.

You’d think they would have put a few more dollars into properly lighting Warren in her launch video with that kind of cash in the bank. Maybe they felt the need to get this done quickly, though. She’s the first to launch the exploratory committee, but the rest of the field will quickly jump into the race. This gives Warren at least a few days to do some fundraising before colleagues such as Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders open up shop. In this case, speed matters more than technical competence.

Thanks to her speed, Warren becomes the de facto front-runner for the Democratic nomination. That won’t last long either. In a recent USA Today/Suffolk presidential primary poll, Warren comes in seventh, behind “someone new” and five other potential Democrats. Fewer respondents were “excited” by her potential candidacy than thought she shouldn’t run at all; she only trailed Bernie Sanders in that latter category, although she also trailed Sanders in excitement as well.

Thematically, this is standard progressivism of the type we can expect from most Democratic candidates in this cycle: Trump is awful, the economy is getting shipwrecked, and everything is going to hell in a handbasket. Warren offers nothing special here in that regard, and it might end up boxing her in more than most. After the chaos this month in the markets, this message might resonate better than perhaps a month ago, but in a month it might lose its luster if the markets recover too. The Trump-is-awful message will remain, but this shows just how crucial economic performance will be to Trump’s fortunes, and perhaps that of other Democrats. The better the economy gets over the next two years, the less likely Democrats will be to go full-on populist with their nominee.

Warren looks likely to fade quickly in a crowded field, which is almost certainly why she rushed the announcement to fit it into 2018 in one of the slowest news cycles on the calendar. Hope she enjoys the brief attention.

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