Before she even began to speak — and she did quite a bit of that Wednesday night — Elizabeth Warren stood out among her fellow Democratic presidential candidates in a more visual way. In a row of dark-colored suits and ties, the liberal firebrand’s purple blazer caught one’s eye from center stage.
Then the questions started rolling in, and it became clear that the Massachusetts senator would dominate at least a portion of the evening. Warren, the only candidate speaking at the first Democratic presidential debate who is polling in double digits nationally, was the first candidate to speak. And her policy proposals were referenced in the opening questions to other candidates, too.
After rattling off the several detailed policy proposals that have brought her nationwide attention, the moderators questioned the candidates to Warren’s left and right on their positions on Warren’s stances.
“You have many plans,” began moderator Savannah Guthrie. “Free college, free child care, government healthcare, cancellation of student debt, new taxes, new regulations, the breakup of major corporations. ... What do you say to those who worry this kind of significant change could be risky to the economy?”
Warren quickly set the tone for the evening with a succinct answer.
“When you’ve got a government, when you’ve got an economy that does great for those with money and isn’t doing great for everyone else, that is corruption pure and simple,” Warren said. “We need to call it out. We need to attack it head on, and we need to make structural change in our government, in our economy and in our country.”
None of her opponents openly disagreed with her or moved to jab her on the more progressive portions of her plan.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who once called programs like free college something she might pass if she were a “magic genie,” said she was concerned about student debt and the price of college.
“I don’t think I disagree,” said Booker, when asked whether he supported Warren’s plan to break up tech monopolies. “I think we have a serious problem in our country with corporate consolidation.”
Warren is polling at about 12 percent nationally, according to an analysis of polling data through June 20 by The New York Times. Six of the 10 candidates on stage Wednesday at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami are polling below 1 percent.
The other headliners Wednesday — former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker and Klobuchar — are polling at 3 percent, 2 percent and 1 percent, respectively, according to the Times’ analysis.
Warren was the sole representative of the top five polling candidates. The other four will debate Thursday night.
Warren’s plans include raising taxes on the nation’s most profitable companies and wealthiest individuals, wiping out student loan debt for millions of Americans, investing $2 trillion in clean energy research and manufacturing, and ending the private detention of undocumented child migrants captured crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
After speaking first, Warren got the closing words as well. And the closing cheers.
“I am in this fight because I believe that we can make our government, we can make our economy, we can make our country work,” she said. “Not just for those at the top. We can make it work for everyone. And I promise you this: I will fight for you as hard as I fight for my own family.”
Less than 50 miles south of the site of the 2018 school shooting in Parkland — and 30 miles north of the Homestead child migrant detention center — the performing arts center was a truly central location. And the candidates were questioned on gun control and immigration.
Warren said the federal government should treat gun violence as a public health emergency and conduct research into the disproportionally high levels of gun fatalities in the United States. Apart from passing universal background checks and banning assault weapons, she said, researchers need to present data to the government that instructs further action.
“We need to treat this like the virus that’s killing our children, treat it like a serious research problem [and] bring data to bear,” she said. “Gun violence is a national health emergency in this country and we need to treat it as such.”
She called climate change the main, existential threat the country is facing.
Asked about how she would deal with a Republican-controlled Senate as president, Warren said her fight would not end in 2020.
“Do you have a plan to deal with Mitch McConnell?” asked moderator Chuck Todd.
“I do,” she said, to laughter and applause.
“We are a democracy. And the way a democracy is supposed to work is the will of the people matters. Now, we for far too long have had a Congress in Washington that has just completely dismissed what people care about across this country,” she said. “Short of a Democratic majority in the Senate, you better understand the fight still goes on. It starts in the White House, and it means that everybody we energize in 2020 stays on the front lines come January 2021.”
-- Martin Vassolo