RALEIGH — Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has been weathering a rough news cycle, from heavy criticism for the tens of trillions she proposed spending on Medicare for All to underwhelming swing state polls.
None of that mattered Thursday. The crowd of 3,550 at a town hall at Raleigh’s Needham B. Broughton High School couldn’t go more than a few sentences without applauding Sen. Warren, D-Mass.
The air buzzed with deafening roars. A “two cents” chant, a reference to her wealth tax, broke out. A raucous “nevertheless, she persisted” chant. Countless "dream big, fight hard" signs.
In her first official campaign visit to North Carolina, Warren, a progressive populist, called for sweeping change, rebuking the moderation of some of her Democratic opponents. Warren, who has touted her vast swath of policy plans throughout her campaign, pledged to attack corruption, create structural change in the economy and protect American democracy.
She described Washington as riddled with corruption—working for the elites and not everyday people.
“We’re not going to fix this with one statute over here and a couple regulations over there. A little twist over here. A nibble around the edges. No, it’s going to take big, structural change,” Warren said to a huge roar.
But will that energy Warren has channeled propel her to the nomination?
Warren is vying to emerge at the top of a pack of Democratic candidates all polling close to each other. Nationally, she trails behind former Vice President Joe Biden. Biden checks in at 28% nationally, with Warren at 21% and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders at 18%, according to RealClearPolitics’ polling average. She surged ahead of Biden in October but has dipped behind as of late.
Despite leading key early primary states in Iowa and New Hampshire by small margins, she trails Biden significantly in other early primary states, like South Carolina and Nevada, according to RealClearPolitics’ averages. And she’s trying to weather a recent New York Times poll that showed her losing to or tied in a head-to-head matchup with President Donald Trump in five of six crucial swing states.
Those states—Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina—were crucial to Trump’s 2016 victory. That poll had Warren winning just Arizona, by a 2% margin.
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Her top competitors at the moment—Biden and Sanders—fared far better in the same poll. Biden beat Trump head-to-head in four of six states, tying Michigan and losing North Carolina by 2%. Sanders split the six states with Trump in the poll.
‘Medicare for all’ not a focal point of Thursday rally
Last week, Warren unveiled her $20.5 trillion plan to pay for her “Medicare for all” proposal.
That price tag has left her the subject of ridicule in a Saturday Night Live skit and opened her to criticism from her own party in the Senate. Some research puts the price tag much higher than her estimate.
Even an economist who supported her plan said it couldn’t be paid for along with her other expansive social programs. Her plan would axe private insurance and provide free health insurance for all, funded by tax hikes on the wealthy.
That plan, one of her signature policy proposals, wasn’t a focal point of her rally Thursday. Instead, she focused on “corruption” in the government and her plans to revitalize the middle class.
“When you see a government that works great for those with money and not so great for everyone else, that is corruption, pure and simple,” Warren said.
First, she said she plans to "attack corruption head on" to "end lobbying as we know it.”
She didn’t go into all of the details—telling the audience to read her full plan on her website—but pledged to end what she called a “revolving door” between Wall Street and Washington. She said she would make all people running for federal positions make their tax returns public.
“You start pushing back against it, you break up some of that influence and you have a real chance to make change,” Warren said.
She then went on to spend a significant chunk of time detailing her proposals of structural change in the U.S. economy. Corporations have too much influence, she argued, "swallowing up" businesses, those small and big.
If president, she would have with “the courage to enforce antitrust laws” and would give more power to workers—before touting what she says would be the benefits of her wealth tax on the ultra-rich, a 2% tax on people with more than $50 million.
“It’s time for a wealth tax,” Warren said to a more muted roar than most Thursday. “When you make it really big, when you make it top one-tenth of 1% big, pitch in two cents.”
She claimed that the tax would pay for universal childcare and pre-kindergarten, raising the wages of childcare workers, free college, cancelling student loan debt and $800 billion in new public school spending, among other things.
She closed her speech by arguing for ways that the United States can “protect its democracy,” from overturning the landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case to a federal law in order to stop gerrymandering.
Duke senior, an ‘unapologetic progressive woman,’ introduces Warren
Duke senior Betsy Broaddus was one of the first people on stage for the event, helping run a raffle for people to ask questions of Warren and hyping up the crowd.
"I am in this fight for Team Warren because I'm an unapologetic progressive woman," she said.
Broaddus said she got the call to speak at the rally from a local organizer on Tuesday, when two straight days of "anxious nerves" ensued.
“I adore Senator Warren and her campaign, and being onstage and feeling hundreds of individuals’ excitement and adoration for this movement in return filled me with joy,” Broaddus told The Chronicle.
Broaddus was a founding member of the student group Duke Students for Elizabeth Warren along with senior Maddy Flamm and Rachel Katz, a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering. The group, which Broaddus says has 130 people on its listserv, hosts several events weekly.
Activities include hosting canvasses, phone banks, debate watch parties and “text parties,” she said. The group also supports progressive policies and candidates generally.
“Senator Warren and her amazing campaign staff and the wonderful volunteers I have had the privilege of being alongside have made me so proud to be in this fight,” Broaddus said.
Watch part of Warren's speech below: