Warren ends wine cave offensive

By Alex Thompson

CONCORD, N.H. — Wine caves are out. Universal child care, student loan debt, and political corruption are in.

After Elizabeth Warren’s bumpy ride as a front-runner this past fall — her fundraising has slipped and she’s stalled in national and state polls — the Massachusetts senator is done with the attacks against former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and reverting to the approach that helped power her initial rise in the polls.

When asked here Thursday about Buttigieg’s $24.7 million fundraising haul, Warren would only say, “I didn’t spend one single minute selling access to my time to millionaires and billionaires.” Then she pivoted to her gratitude for her own donors.

Her campaign’s emails to supporters struck a similarly non-combative tone in announcing their fundraising for the fourth quarter.

And in a speech on New Year’s Eve in Boston, Warren offered a rebuttal of her rivals’ critiques that she insists on damaging purity tests when she’s not pure herself, but without naming names.

“The billionaires, the corporate executives and their favorite presidential candidates have one clear goal,” she said. “To convince you that reform is hopeless. To convince you that because no one can be pure, it’s pointless to try to make anything better.”

The moves are part of an attempt to return to the core messaging and stay-above-fray style that served her so well for much of the campaign. But it’s also an effort to move beyond her recent slog.

Some voters are glad to see Warren go back to her “I’m not here to criticize other Democrats” creed.

“The whole wine cave thing was blown out of proportion,” said Jim Martin, a 48-year-old from Hopkinton who is undecided and brought a baseball for Warren to sign after a Thursday event in Concord. “Campaigns cost money.”

Dick Hesse, a retired 86-year-old from Hopkinton who is also undecided, echoed that sentiment. “It didn’t make sense and it was meaningless,” he said of the wine cave attacks.

Even some volunteers for the Warren campaign such as Mary Shelby — an 81-year-old retiree from Pittsfield — said they found the attacks “disappointing.”

Even if Warren herself is refraining from the negative, outside Warren allies like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) continue to regularly attack her rivals.

Adam Green, the co-founder of the PCCC, said that there isn't anything new about the senator’s approach but rather "she punches when warranted, and when strategic. The wine thing worked because she doesn't cry wolf," he said.

Still, the return to a more positive approach is partly about trying to be a plausible nominee for as many voters as possible — what the Warren campaign calls voters’ “consideration set.”

There are some signs of success, with many polls showing that Warren usually ranks as the second choice among supporters of other candidates — a sign of her broad appeal. It’s also a distinctly different approach than Sanders, who has more aggressively attacked other candidates and focused on cultivating his devoted base.

“In the closing days leading up the caucuses, she is squarely focused on her number one issue which is political corruption,” said Iowa state Sen. Zach Wahls, who endorsed Warren this fall and joined her at a town hall last week. “At the most recent event I was at of hers in North Liberty she answered maybe 10 questions and tied 9 of them back to corruption.”

Warren’s pivot back to basics — such as the rigged political system — comes amid signs that Medicare for All may be fading as a concern among voters considering her. Rivals and their allies have repeatedly hammered her on the issue and she spent weeks trying to explain her position on Medicare for All — releasing multiple plans to do so.

While she continues to briefly mention the single payer health care program during her town halls, voters have started to ask fewer questions about it, allowing Warren to track back to other issues that were more central to her candidacy from the start — such as universal child care, student loan debt, and enacting a wealth tax.

"Elizabeth's message from day one has been that she is running for president to make our government work for everyone, not just for millionaires and billionaires who can influence politicians behind closed doors with max out donations," spokesman Chris Hayden said in a statement.

In a pair of events Thursday in New Hampshire where Warren took about twenty questions, none were about Medicare for All. Last month, she would sometimes receive multiple questions about it at a single event.

Asked afterward about whether she was avoiding Medicare for All Warren shook her head and replied: “I take questions and I go wherever the questions take me.”