The Democratic debate in Houston this week has been billed as Elizabeth Warren’s first chance to go head-to-head with former Vice President Joe Biden now that she has reached top-tier status in an array of national and state polls.
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But her strategy, the Massachusetts senator suggested Saturday, will be to avoid criticizing the other Democrats on stage, including Biden.
“All I can do is stand up and talk about why I’m running,” Warren told ABC News’ Rachel Scott before speaking at the New Hampshire Democratic Convention on Saturday. “I’m not here to criticize any other Democrat or anyone else’s campaign.”
Asked if the fact that she will share a debate stage with Biden, who dominated the early months of the race to take on President Donald Trump but has lately seen more progressive candidates cut into his lead, Warren, a former student debate champion, said simply: “Not really.”
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While Warren has avoided criticizing the former vice president explicitly on the campaign trail, this will not be the first time the two have an opportunity to air out their disagreements. More than a decade ago, Warren, then a Harvard Law School professor, testified against a bankruptcy bill that she said would hurt struggling families at the expense of credit card companies. Biden, a supporter of the bill, was tasked with questioning Warren.
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U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren speaks at a house party in Hampton Falls, NH on Sep. 2, 2019.
“You know, the way I see this, is it’s a chance to talk to people all across the country about how we’ve got a government that works great for the wealthy and the well-connected, it’s just not working for everyone else,” Warren said Saturday of the upcoming ABC News debate on Sept. 12. “And we’ve got a chance to change that in 2020.”
Biden, who represented Delaware in the Senate for more than three decades, fended off a slew of attacks from during the first two debates, including a memorable exchange about race with Sen. Kamala Harris of California.
Asked about the upcoming debate, Biden said Friday that sharing a stage with candidates like Warren, “will be a good thing.”
“I’ve never had to break through,” Biden said as he left a campaign stop in Laconia, New Hampshire. “Anyway, I’m looking forward to it.”
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Warren showed up early Saturday morning to greet supporters at New Hampshire’s convention who had been rallying for her and other candidates outside the arena since as early as 3 a.m. In what has now become a trademark entrance for Warren, she ran toward her supporters with her arm raised high in a wave, stopping to hug and take selfies with dozens of them.
She then received a rapturous welcome upon taking the stage at what the New Hampshire Democratic Party said was the largest convention in its history.
Meanwhile, a source familiar with the conversation confirmed that the candidate has spoken twice with Hillary Clinton, the party’s 2016 nominee. That contact was first reported on Saturday by NBC News.
But despite the enthusiasm in one of the nation’s first early-voting states, Warren dismissed the idea that being a frontrunner on stage Thursday could lead to a similar target on her back as Biden faced in the previous two debates.
“I don’t know,” Warren told Scott. “I just see this as an opportunity for all of the Democrats to get up and talk about their vision, what it would mean to them if they were president of the United States and what it would mean to America. I hope that’s what everyone else on stage is doing.”
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Democratic presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden addresses a crowd at a town hall event at Clinton College on August 29, 2019 in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
Next Thursday will be an important night for Warren, who has gained steadily throughout the summer.
Recent ABC News/Washington Post polling shows Warren has been the only top tier candidate to gain polling traction among Democratic voters since July, as compared to Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and California Sen. Kamala Harris.
During the same time frame that Warren climbed from 11 percent to 17 percent, Biden and Sanders didn’t rise and saw marginal decreases. Warren gained, in particular, in the Northeast, in urban areas and among liberals voters, according to the September poll results.
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“I think it’s because I get out and talk about what’s broken and have real plans to fix it. And I’m building a grassroots movement to get it done,” Warren said about her mounting support.
Warren’s plans, of which she now has over 30, include progressive proposals like a wealth tax on every American who has over $50 million in assets and canceling college debt for nearly 95% of those who have it.
On the campaign trail, Warren often faces questions about how she would get these policies through a divided Congress, and specifically Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
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New Hampshire voter Valerie Hardy, a former state legislator and lifelong Democrat, who attended the convention Saturday, said she believes Warren and other candidates “are very likely to work with Republicans,” despite their progress bona fides, but that McConnell “is standing in the way of everything.”
Warren, for her part, has a history of confrontation with McConnell that has worked in her campaign’s favor. A 2017 interaction on the Senate floor birthed a key campaign slogan for the candidate, “Nevertheless, she persisted,” which supporters now blast across shirts and signs.
Warren told Scott that she hopes that the Senate majority leader is defeated in his re-election fight and that Republicans lose their majority in the senate. But she made clear that either way, she did not see McConnell as an insurmountable obstacle.
“Do keep in mind, Mitch McConnell tried to shut me down once before,” Warren said. “I don’t think it worked out for him.”