05:30 - Source: CNN
Carpenter: Warren has 'a plan to win this thing'

Editor’s Note: Jess McIntosh is a Democratic strategist and former communications adviser for Hillary Clinton. She is also the editor at large of Shareblue Media and co-host of the SiriusXM radio show Signal Boost. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinions on CNN.

CNN —  

Like many watching the 2020 presidential race this closely this early, I don’t have a favorite yet. My goal this primary season is to help make sure that the women running for President are taken as seriously as the men. So Elizabeth Warren’s recent rise in polls is exciting, mostly because of what it can mean about the electorate.

Indeed, the phrase I hear most often from my fellow progressives, in conjunction with the giant, sprawling, year-long search for a Democratic nominee to take on Trump in 2020, is this: “I am surprised by how much I love Elizabeth Warren.”

Jess McIntosh
Courtesy of Jess McIntosh
Jess McIntosh

After 2016, it was easy – and not just for progressives – to be depressed about our nation’s ability to pick a strong leader. Hillary Clinton was the far more capable of the two major candidates on Election Day, and she still lost. She had laid out the most progressive policy agenda ever outlined by a Democratic nominee – and still she was regularly and unfairly excoriated (even by Democrats) for not speaking to the issues important to working people.

It was tough to picture voters believing in another smart woman with big ideas. And as expected, when Elizabeth Warren began running, her obvious intellect was reported as a liability – it could make her unrelatable, school-marmish, the dreaded unlikable. We watched, meanwhile, as the same cheerful nerdiness was lauded in Pete Buttigieg – no one suggested learning Norwegian in college to read an author who hadn’t been published in English would make him less palatable to the Rust Belt middle class.

But with one bold policy proposal after another – from the Ultra-Millionaire tax to affordable universal child care (including a calculator function it seemed like no one on social media could escape), Warren is winning people over (despite – until very recently – consistently receiving less coverage). She is doing this by painting a picture of a post-Trump America that actually addresses the issues that got us Donald Trump in the first place.

The Democratic party is engaged in a debate that loosely pits socialism against capitalism: Warren falls under the capitalist banner. But her approach there is both canny and grounded.

By focusing on the financial pressures of motherhood that keep women from earning up to their potential, for example, she’s recognizing that American capitalism is dependent on women performing the unpaid labor of child bearing and rearing. And by proposing policies squarely aimed at reducing the racial wealth gap, she’s demonstrating an understanding that our capitalist economy was built on the exploitation of black labor and generations of discrimination against black and brown Americans.

So, when Warren talks about reordering the economy to benefit the workers, she’s talking about making it work for people whose challenges it has never truly considered.

That resonates with the women who leave millions on the table because their time and labor is required to raise the next generation. It resonates with black people who work even harder than their white peers but can’t crawl out of debt and build their net worth without the generational wealth that’s been stolen through centuries of slavery and discrimination.

It resonates with young people who know that student debt and the rise of the low-pay, no-security gig economy means they won’t be financially solvent for at least a decade, maybe more.

Now it seems the biggest hurdle Warren faces is literally in the minds of Democratic voters – it is “perceived electability.” Democratic voters overwhelmingly rate beating Trump as extremely important in 2020, and are more likely to choose a candidate they believe can do it.

As of today, the week before the first debate, Elizabeth Warren is capturing the heart of the Democratic party. A pair of recent polls show Warren’s rise is the newest trend to shake up the Democratic pack. But those who have warmed to her still don’t seem to believe their neighbors will warm to her enough to vote for her, too.

The problem with this thinking is that we are notoriously bad at predicting this far out who we’re going to elect. There was so much love for Barack Obama in 2008 – but it wasn’t until largely white Iowa voters declared en masse that they would in fact vote for him that many Democrats (including prominent black Americans) felt comfortable being open in their support. Once they perceived that Obama was electable, they did the work of getting him elected.

Get our free weekly newsletter

  • Sign up for CNN Opinion’s newsletter.
  • Join us on Twitter and Facebook

    Elizabeth Warren spent the first six months of her candidacy issuing bold policy declarations, making calls to individual voters, sharing her compelling hardscrabble personal story, and electrifying crowds by having a plan. She’s convinced a healthy amount of the electorate that she’s the person they want to see sworn in when this is all over. If those people start to believe that the support she enjoys is a strength – and could mean she’s their best chance to win the whole thing, then we might have a new Democratic frontrunner.