CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Elizabeth Warren’s biggest fans don’t just support her. They adore the Massachusetts Democratic senator—her passion, her plainspokenness, and her unapologetic jabs against big banks and Wall Street.
“She’s so articulate, she’s so genuine. She seems so apolitical,” said Pamela Daly, who gravitated toward Warren’s message after being laid off three times in a single year.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean they want her to run for president – at least for the time being.
“I like her acting as a gadfly,” said Mary Hoffman, a retired communications professional who was among the hundreds who gathered to welcome Warren home to Cambridge on Thursday night. “It might be frustrating to be president in today’s environment.”
“I want to keep her as my senator for longer,” said Evan Sipe, a 27-year-old librarian eagerly awaiting her chance to meet Warren after the event—the second stop in her book tour for “A Fighting Chance.”
The Cambridge event was a homecoming for Warren, a former Harvard law professor, who spoke about the core issues that rallied supporters to her side: Her advocacy for ordinary consumers and her anger against the big corporations, bankers and lobbyists who have screwed them over.
“The game is rigged, and it’s up to us to fix it,” she told the crowd gathered inside a church on the outskirts of Harvard’s campus. “Before anyone says they’ve given up—that little consumer agency, the ones the bank said they would kill, and spend a million dollars a day lobbying—we got it passed into law!” she said, shaking her balled-up fists as the crowd applauded and cheered.
Warren’s new book turns her advocacy into autobiography. She explains how her family’s precarious finances first exposed her to the economic fears and perils ordinary Americans face, leading to her career in bankruptcy law, consumer advocacy, and, ultimately, politics. It’s also full of the whimsical anecdotes, relentlessly self-labeling – “I’m a wife, a mother, and a grandmother” – and occasional white-washing that have become standard fodder for political memoirs.
“I tell these stories because the thread of my story is America’s story. I am a daughter of a maintenance man who made it to the U.S. Senate,” Warren told the audience.
It’s the kind of rhetoric that has helped fuel speculation about Warren’s future political aspirations. But in Cambridge, Warren also made it clear why she isn’t necessarily laying the groundwork for a White House bid.
Warren’s dogged focus on the wonky details made it clear that she was happiest in her element of policymaking and policy advocacy—not the kind of dealmaking that might be necessary in a divided Washington.
When asked point-blank whether she was running for president, Warren launched into her latest policy campaign. “I’m not running for president. But listen, this really is important. We can’t keep putting off what we need to talk about. We’ve got issues we’ve got to dig in on right now. Student loans—we’re going to have this bill up in another four to six weeks. We’ve got to be ready to take to the airwaves,” she told the audience, referring to new legislation that would refinance and reform federal loans.
And it’s Warren’s focus on the nitty-gritty, along with her populist broadsides, that has fueled intense passion and loyalty from her supporters. Many first became aware of her work when she was helping to establish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new watchdog set up under the Dodd Frank Wall Street reform law in 2010.
Rachel Youdelman, a 63 year-old photo editor, was already a Warren fan when she filed a complaint against her bank with the CFPB for charging her a fee for after she already closed her account. She was floored when a check and an apology letter arrived in two weeks—a concrete sign that Warren’s work had come to fruition. “She’s very genuinely driven by values, the values of fairness and justice. And she’s not in it for herself,” Youdelman said.
Hoffman particularly loved watching Warren in action at a congressional hearing on bank regulation. “I like that she really grilled the SEC in a public hearing about why weren’t they doing anything,” she said.
That kind of prosecutorial tone and populist edge has allowed Warren to retain part of her outsider status, even in the halls of Capitol Hill. She would inevitably have to compromise that in the White House, at least in the current political climate. And her fans don’t want to undercut the work that she is undertaking in her first term in Congress.
“I think she can make better change in the Senate, where she is. Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t love to see her as president—but I think in terms of timing, I think the Senate is a right place” says Holly Bauer, 27. ”I think the opinion that she should be president—I think it’s very well-intentioned, but I don’t think it’s very well thought out by most people,” she added, citing the intense fundraising demands of a presidential run.
And in Cambridge, at least, there were plenty of Warren acolytes who had another candidate in mind for 2016. “I moved to Cambridge from New York City last year, and one of the things I was most excited about was that Elizabeth Warren was going to be my senator,” said Megan Ambrus, a 29 year-old writer. “But I’m rooting for Hillary.”
Ambrus quickly added, however: “My dream ticket would be Hillary-Elizabeth 2016.”