Re-energized Warren Looks to Regain Support in NV and Beyond

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LAS VEGAS -- One night after knocking Michael Bloomberg off his vaunted pedestal with a barrage of debate-stage body blows targeting his treatment of women and minorities, Elizabeth Warren returned to another media stage looking to finish him off. She showed up at a CNN town-hall event here Thursday night with some papers in hand.

“Last night at the debate I had an exchange with Mayor Bloomberg,” she said to cheers and applause from the audience.

Massachusetts’ senior senator was in her element, basking in the glow of renewed enthusiasm about her campaign after most media talking heads said she had shone in the previous night’s debate.  Warren recounted her interaction with the former New York mayor and how she grilled him on his history of sexist comments about women and how he had remarked that maybe some of them hadn’t been able to take a joke. She then reprised one of her best applause lines from the night before when she pressed Bloomberg to release these women, and possibly some men, from the non-disclosure agreements they signed while settling sexual harassment claims.

“This is an election for president of the United States, and transparency here is important. I used to teach contract law, and I thought I would make this easy,” she said to more whoops and hollers from the audience. Holding up papers she described as a non-disclosure agreement release and covenant not to sue, she drove her point home.

“All Bloomberg has to do is download it – I’ll text it – and sign it, and then the women or men will be free to speak and tell their own stories,” she said with a grin. CNN host Erin Burnett asked whether Warren thinks Bloomberg’s refusal to release the women and men from those agreements was disqualifying for president.

“Yes, I do,” Warren replied on cue.  

The move was obviously scripted and rehearsed, but the audience loved it anyway, roaring with laughter and applause in response. Afterward, her top surrogate, former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, remarked on Twitter: “Add to the list of @ewarren’s plans: A plan for Michael Bloomberg to hold himself accountable.”

There was a new confidence on display, coming just two days before the Nevada caucuses and hours after #PresidentWarren was trending on Twitter, along with a palpable hope that she had pulled off a comeback performance akin to what Amy Klobuchar had achieved in New Hampshire. In the Granite State, Minnesota’s senior senator had finished strong, ending up with more votes than Warren and former vice president Joe Biden combined. Going into Wednesday’s debate here, Warren’s allies and advisers conceded she needed a similar performance to bolster her selfies, fist pumps, and signature line “I have a plan for that.”  She needed a foil like Mike Bloomberg.

“I’m not ready to go away,” a clearly re-energized Warren shouted to supporters at a canvassing event in North Las Vegas Thursday morning. At the end of the CNN town hall that night, she beamed and danced as many women in the audience took to their feet in a show of support.

She had reason to celebrate. Her campaign, which had been on financial life support over the last several weeks, received an infusion of $5 million in less than 24 hours after the debate – more than tripling her single biggest daily fundraising haul in the last year, pulled in when her campaign was surging.

Warren’s campaign is obviously back in business. The questions now are where does she go from here – and is her resurgence too late? Over the last 24 hours, pundits have pointed out that the candidate who may have gained the most from her boffo debate performance is  Bernie Sanders -- her closest ideological rival and the new front-runner in the race.

Because Bloomberg took so much incoming flak – Warren was not the only one who went after the self-funded billionaire -- Sanders largely skated, never really having to defend his brand of democratic socialism, his decision not to release full medical records, or how he plans to push his list of government giveaways through a Congress that has repeatedly rejected his big proposals over the course of the lawmaker’s long career on Capitol Hill.

Over the last month, Sanders has opened up a double-digit lead nationally, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average. In Nevada, which caucuses Saturday, Sanders is 14 percentage points ahead of Biden, with Warren in fourth position with 13.7%, behind former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, at 14%. Sanders is nipping at Biden’s heels in South Carolina, trailing by just four points, and has 12-point lead in California over Biden. Meanwhile, Warren is lagging at the back of the pack in those contests, barely breaking double digits.

Those numbers could shift more to Warren’s favor after her debate performance, but likely not enough to displace Sanders. The long odds, however, don’t faze her. With her fresh infusion of cash, Warren boldly placed a full-page ad in billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s newspaper, the Las Vegas Review, letting him know what he’d pay under her wealth tax: $2.3 billion, less than 6% of his near $40 billion net worth.

Warren’s own position on big-donor money aiding her campaign shifted radically this week with time running out in the primary process. Throughout her presidential bid, she has hit others for taking PAC money and holding high-dollar fundraisers, but  she did not distance herself or criticize a new super PAC, formed this week, that has reportedly placed $1 million in ads aimed at benefiting her candidacy in Nevada and another $1 million in South Carolina.

“I believe we should do a no super PAC primary, but that means no super PACs for everyone,” she told the New York Times Thursday.

Meanwhile, her difficult path forward is fueling talk that’s she’s setting herself up as the most viable alternative for Sanders if his health fails or he otherwise stumbles -- or to serve as his eventual running mate or in a key Cabinet job in a Sanders administration.

Thursday night she insisted she continues to keep her eye on the main prize. Asked by MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell why voters should support her over Sanders, Warren pointed out her ability to get “real stuff done.” She cited the passage of a bill during the Trump administration and in a GOP-controlled Senate that makes hearing aids available over the counter, saving seniors, collectively, millions of dollars.

“I have rock-solid values and I get stuff done,” she said. “I don’t want to be president just to yell at people, I want to be president to change things.”

Susan Crabtree is RealClearPolitics' White House/national political correspondent.

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