What Does Senator Elizabeth Warren’s New Leadership Role Mean for the Democratic Party?

 /  Nov. 23, 2014, 12:15 p.m.


In 2012, Elizabeth Warren made history after she was elected the first female senator from Massachusetts. Warren’s star has risen meteorically over the past two years; since her election to the Senate she has become a darling of liberal groups, which admire her tenacity and unwavering commitment to reducing income inequality. On Thursday, November 13, soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid appointed Warren as strategic policy adviser to the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. This leadership role was created specifically for Sen. Warren, and it allows her to help shape the Democratic Party’s policy priorities and to serve as the party’s liaison to progressive groups. This new role as strategic policy adviser is an important step in Warren’s political career, but it also has larger implications for the Democratic Party as a whole and for Democratic candidates in the 2016 presidential race.

Sen. Warren’s new leadership position puts the Democrats in a good position for the 2016 presidential election because it offers another potential Democratic candidate a chance to challenge Hillary Clinton. It is no surprise that Hillary Clinton is the de facto Democratic front runner for 2016. It is a little surprising, however, that Clinton is basically the only Democratic option for voters at this point, especially when compared with the crowded Republican field. Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, and Jeb Bush are just a few Republican candidates considering a run in 2016. With Warren as the party’s new strategic policy adviser, Democrats can strengthen their potential presidential nominees. At the annual winter meeting of the Democracy Alliance partners, Erica Sagrans, the director of the super PAC Ready For Warren, shared her thoughts on Warren’s future political success. “Post-midterms, there are a lot of depressed Democrats. Warren gives them something to get excited about. I don’t have any doubt that if she were to run, tons of donors and activists would be behind her.”

Progressive voters like the idea of putting a woman in the Oval Office in 2016. Democratic voters across the board have been excited by the prospect of electing Hillary Clinton for reasons other than her gender, including her desire to raise the minimum wage, increase access to pre-kindergarten education, and fight for gender pay equity. However, Clinton is faced with the unique challenge of separating herself from President Obama who has an approval rating of 41.7%. Unlike Secretary Clinton’s “One-Percenter” image, Sen. Warren’s public persona resonates with the people. Her speeches resonate with the vast majority of Americans living in a post-recession economy, and she is never afraid to mention her upbringing during campaigns in support of fellow Democrats. “I am the daughter of a janitor and I ended up in the United States Senate. America is truly a great place.” Warren has been an advocate of tackling income inequality since stepping into office in 2012 as Massachusetts’s first female senator. It is difficult for any political figure to find the right message, especially in the beginning stages of a campaign, as Secretary Clinton has learned, but Warren’s unapologetic populist message has clearly struck a chord. Her appointment as strategic policy adviser is a smart move for Democrats hoping to secure an election in 2016 with the help of young, progressive voters.

In her short time as senator, Elizabeth Warren has created a strong identity for herself, one that becomes clearer when she is speaking next to Secretary Clinton. Warren has made clear time and again that she is not running for president in 2016, but her seemingly unanticipated promotion to a seat at the Democratic leadership table leads one to question her consistent denials. Many of Warren’s Democratic colleagues are unsure why she was appointed to this position, but that does not stop them from praising her strengths. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin recognizes Warren’s ability “to deliver a message that really resonates with working families.” However, despite her impressive support group, Sen. Warren’s 2016 promotion to the White House remains but a figment of progressives’ imagination.

So why the sudden appointment to the party leadership? I wouldn’t necessarily be surprised if Warren reversed her denials of seeking a White House bid in 2016. (“I am not running for president. Do you want to put an exclamation point at the end of that?” she asked the Boston Globe in a recent interview.) Whatever comes of Sen. Warren’s political future, the Democrats are reassessing after losing control of the Senate to Republicans in the midterms. Putting the spotlight on Warren will hopefully encourage Clinton to alter her political strategy such that the genuine passion behind her message comes to the forefront of her campaign. Because voters will want someone more experienced in 2016, Clinton will likely have no problem winning a national election, but it is clear that she needs to trade some of her quantitatively-focused campaign strategies for personal anecdotes and “Yes We Can” slogans if she wants to win over the working class. David Axelrod told Politico that Clinton should not “rely too much on that we do have an electoral vote advantage and demographic advantages” because he fears that she is not giving Democrats the message they need and are so clearly asking for after the midterms.

As the newly-appointed strategic policy adviser, Warren will undoubtedly have a lot of power in the upcoming presidential election. Warren’s recent promotion puts her in a unique position to introduce new Senate legislation and to give speeches regarding pressing economic issues on which presidential candidates will have to comment. While Warren’s appointment caught many political figures and the general public by surprise, it seems that electing Warren as a policy adviser will only help Clinton moving forward in her presidential campaign. Warren’s tough questions and progressive legislation will force Clinton (and other presidential candidates) to master the language that will resonate with voters and justify her second attempt at the White House.

The image featured in this article is taken from Edward Kimmel's Flickr page. The original image can be found here

Alexi McCammond


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