New polls show Senate contender Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts has pulled ahead of incumbent Scott Brown after the Democratic Convention. In recent months Warren had been tracking a point or two behind Brown, but the newest polls show her leading 48% to 44%.
This is significant because Warren’s race is not only central to majority control of the Senate in November’s election, but she has also come to represent an emerging aggressive progressivism in the Democratic party that may be key to shaping the future of its political identity.
Last year, just as she was announcing her candidacy, a video she didn’t know was being taped sprang up from one of her first stump speeches. It racked up more than a million YouTube views quickly and generated tons of attention for how clearly and unapologetically she outlined a progressive worldview.
The Obama campaign noticed. They tried to paraphrase her argument and bungled it badly. “Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that,” Obama said, and the right tore him to shreds over it.
Warren’s version went like this:
You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
Obama may not have paraphrased effectively, but the worldview he was advocating was Warren’s. To the extent that she’s surging in polls, it may be a bellwether of the political climate at large.
Whether or not Warren’s standing ends up indicating anything about Obama’s performance in November, it’s a strong sign for progressives that her message seems to be leading her toward a Senate win—as we’ve seen over Obama’s term, if Congress is hell-bent on obstructing constructive policies, it really doesn’t matter who the president is.
Watch Warren’s speech from last year below.