Warren under pressure as 2020 rivals step up attacks

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (D-Mass.) arrives at this week’s primary debate under heavy attacks from her rivals over her health care plan and with polls showing her as vulnerable as Democrats agonize over who to pick as their nominee.

Warren has catapulted herself to the top of polls as one of the candidates that most excites the progressive base, a surge that already made her a top target at the October debate.

But she arrives at the debate in Atlanta on Wednesday after suffering some potential setbacks.


She appeared to be the favorite to win Iowa just a few weeks ago, but a Des Moines-CNN-Mediacom poll this weekend showed her support slipping to 16 percent, while centrist rival Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegScaled-back Pride Month poses challenges for fundraising, outreach Biden hopes to pick VP by Aug. 1 It’s as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process MORE surged to the top with 25 percent support, marking the first time the South Bend, Ind., mayor led the Massachusetts senator. 

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Doubts are also emerging about her general election appeal after surveys from The New York Times-Siena College last month showed her trailing President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE in a number of key swing states where former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE, who has made electability a key plank of his campaign, beat Trump. 

Warren has also come under heavy fire, especially from leading moderate candidates Biden and Buttigieg, after unveiling a $20.5 trillion “Medicare for All” plan that would institute an ambitious single-payer system and eliminate private insurance. 

But under a subsequent plan unveiled on Friday that sought to provide more details, Warren appeared to soften somewhat the scope of her ambition.

For example, Warren proposed a gradual move toward a Medicare for All system and also preserving private insurance coverage for a transition period, while still giving people the option of joining an expanded Medicare-type plan.

“I think her announcing the specifics on the health care plan hurt her, and created an opportunity for Biden, and now also Buttigieg,” Michael Gordon, a Democratic strategist and principal at Group Gordon, told The Hill. 


“Arguably the best moment for Biden’s campaign thus far was when Warren released her payment plan for Medicare for All,’ ” he said. “That combined with some of the polls that showed her not doing as well as Biden against Trump in key swing states feels like some of the gas has been taken out of her campaign.”

Warren is still seen as one of the clear front-runners in the Democratic nomination, with polls consistently showing her among the top contenders.

But the race is still seen as fluid, with no clear favorite emerging. The field grew even bigger after former Massachusetts Gov. Deval PatrickDeval PatrickIt’s as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process Top Democratic super PACs team up to boost Biden Andrew Yang endorses Biden in 2020 race MORE entered the race last week, while former New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael BloombergEngel scrambles to fend off primary challenge from left It’s as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process Liberals embrace super PACs they once shunned MORE is seen as likely to throw in his hat as well.

Doubts persist about whether Warren’s unabashedly progressive platform can appeal to voters in a general election, especially on health care where the senator is advocating a substantial reform that will eventually include getting rid of private insurance.

Critics have continued to point to what they say is an element of vagueness in Warren’s health care plan, and have expressed skepticism over whether she’ll actually be able to pay for it without raising taxes on the middle class. 

Responding to critics, Warren this month unveiled a Medicare for All plan that would not directly raise taxes on the middle class, and instead fund the plan through a combination of taxes on businesses and the wealthy, as well as contributions from state and local governments, among other sources.

But her proposed cost of $20.5 trillion is below the $34 trillion in new federal spending the Urban Institute recently reported would be needed to fund a single-payer program.

And 2020 rivals led by Buttigieg and Biden have still decried it as too expensive and radical.

“Despite adopting Pete’s language of ‘choice,’ her plan is still a ‘my way or the highway’ approach that would eradicate choice for millions of Americans,” Buttigieg’s communications director Lis Smith said in a statement last week. 

Biden’s deputy communications director Kate Bedingfield accused Warren of “trying to muddy the waters even further” after discovering “how problematic her embrace of Medicare for All has become.” 

Biden has pushed to expand and improve upon ObamaCare, while Buttigieg has proposed a “Medicare for all who want it” plan. Both candidates have voiced support for a public option.

Some strategists, however, have defended Warren’s plan, including her latest call for a more gradual approach.


“Elizabeth Warren’s plan is not flip-flopping,” Andrew Feldman, a Democratic strategist and founder of Feldman Strategies, told The Hill. “It’s actually being realistic about the political scenario in Washington.” 

“Her plan ultimately gets you to Medicare for All. It ultimately gets you to what she said she wants to do, which is to eliminate private insurance,” he said. 

But strategists also warn Warren will need to better explain her health care plan at this week’s debate and not risk being seen as pivoting on a critical campaign platform, with less than three months to go until the Iowa caucus.

“People want to keep their health care plan, and people are afraid of the costs of her plan,” Gordon said. “She needs to find a way to factor in those two things in terms of how she sells her plan. But if she starts changing her plan, which is at the center of her campaign, then it seems like she has no real plan at all.”