By DOUGLAS BURNS
Sen. Elizabeth Warren stormed across half the Hawkeye State Saturday, drawing overflow crowds eager to hear her populist brand of politics a full year before the Iowa caucuses — a contest the Massachusetts Democrat hasn’t even officially entered yet.
Her pitch: American government and business are rigged against everyday Americans, and it’s getting worse under President Donald Trump.
“There are too many people who get their power from turning working people against other working people,” Warren said Saturday afternoon in Storm Lake.
The White House hopeful, who has formed an exploratory committee, drew a crowd of 300 people in the Buena Vista County seat, far more than could fit into a house converted into the Our Place Community Center. She participated in a panel discussion on rural issues inside the center and delivered an impromptu speech to a two-block-long line of people gathered outside in 50-degree weather who could not get into the program.
Beth Winterhof, a farmer who lives south of Aurelia, said she agreed with virtually all of what Warren said.
“I’ve always liked Elizabeth Warren,” said Winterhof, a Democrat. “I think she’s very eloquent and very focused on the people. That’s what I really like about her. She focuses on policy that will help ordinary people.”
Linda Bindner, who farms in Marcus, said she hopes Warren can connect in rural Iowa. She attended the Warren event in Storm Lake on her 72nd birthday.
“She certainly connected on issues today that are important to me,” said Bindner, a nurse who wants to see health-care issues elevated and more tolerance extended to minorities.
Is Warren the Democrat to challenge Trump?
“I hope so,” Bindner said. “I don’t know at this time. I come to see lots of candidates.”
Warren, who said she attended a “commuter college” for $50 a semester before going on to earn a law degree at Rutgers University and teach at Harvard Law School, sought to connect with voters on her biography.
She talked of getting married at 19, becoming a mom at 22, teaching school and of her Oklahoma roots in which her family lived “paycheck to paycheck.”
“I’m not a professional politician,” Warren said. “I never thought I would be in electoral politics. This is the fight of my life. I have spent my entire career on one central question: What’s happening to working families?”
When she pointed out that college student loan debt stands at $1.5 trillion, a member of the audience in Storm Lake gasped and said, “Jesus.”
“We are crushing an entire generation of young people,” Warren said.
Warren said Medicaid is viewed by too many as a program for other people, not for them or their families, but the reality is health problems or other life events can force people into government assistance through Medicaid.
“We don’t know whose grandma outlives her savings,” Warren said.
Big picture, too many decisions in government are made with moneyed influencers whispering in the ears of lawmakers, she said.
“I believe we’ve got to take our government back,” Warren said.
Multiple media outlets reported that Warren pulled crowds too big for the venues in which they were staged in Des Moines, Sioux City and Council Bluffs. A space next to a Council Bluffs bowling alley filled quickly with 300 people while, as in Storm Lake, others waited outside. She drew more than 1,000 people in Des Moines.
In Storm Lake, during a question-and-answer session with the media, Warren told The Daily Times Herald she was pleased to see Congress pass a farm bill.
“I think it has some good provisions,” she said. “It’s like a lot, though. It’s got a lot of compromises in it. And I think we need a farm bill that works better for smaller farms. That’s the part that interests me the most.”
After her Storm Lake roundtable, Warren stuck around for more than 30 minutes, taking photos with well-wishers and chatting with families — warm exchanges that belied the narrative advanced in a Politico story that the senator is “unlikable” and shares many attributes with the failed 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Peter and Elizabeth Leo of Manning talked individually with Warren in Storm Lake after arriving in blue T-shirts identifying themselves as members of the “Elizabeth Warren wing” of the Democratic Party. Peter Leo, the Democrats’ 2018 Statehouse candidate for the district that includes Carroll and Audubon and part of Crawford County, said he liked much of Warren’s message.
“She’s been fighting for people who have worked hard and played by the rules but can’t get ahead,” he said. “That has a lot of appeal, especially to the rural voters Democrats need to win back. To get through to those voters, intimate events like today’s that allow her to interact with locals on a personal level are best. I expect a lot more of that from her.”
Leo went so far as to compare Warren to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
“She’ll make a case for progressive policies like no Democrat has, arguably since FDR,” Leo said. “Democrats have been arguing on Republican terms for way too long. We need to invest the time and effort to build support for our agenda with voters, not ‘chase the polls.’ She’ll make that effort.”