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Elizabeth Warren facing new tests as she rises in polls, experts say

Sen. Elizabeth Warren during a town hall-style meeting

Sen. Elizabeth Warren during a town hall-style meeting on Sept. 25 at Keene State College in Keene, N.H. Credit: Getty Images / Scott Eisen

Sen. Elizabeth Warren's very good summer of campaigning has paved the way for a potentially very good autumn.

The Democratic presidential candidate has overtaken former Vice President Joe Biden in several polls. She raised $24.6 million between July and September, second only to Sen. Bernie Sanders. And she continues to draw large and enthusiastic crowds to her rallies.

But two major factors now test the resiliency of her candidacy, political experts say.

Warren, a Massachusetts progressive whose slogan has been "I have a plan for that," must contend with the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry steering the national political conversation away from her bid.

She also must anticipate the attacks that will come with her new status in the polls. For example, she was forced last week to address inconsistencies in her account of pregnancy discrimination as a young teacher, an anecdote central to her biography.

The experts say Warren can expect to be targeted at the fourth Democratic debate Tuesday in Ohio.

“As her star rises, the scrutiny and level of intensity will only increase,” said Christina Greer, Fordham University professor of political science.

Susan Del Percio, a New York-based Republican consultant, said the impeachment proceedings are "taking up all the oxygen in the room" and threaten to blunt Warren's momentum. 

“I admire the campaign she’s run — she has a message, she has the energy and she is just so steady — but she might have peaked too early," Del Percio said. "It’s a long time between now and Iowa.”

Warren, running to the far left of Biden, in recent months has seen her poll numbers tick upward because of a broadening of her support. She has made gains among black and moderate voters, groups where Biden dominates.

An Aug. 28 national Quinnipiac University poll showed her at 10% support among black Democrats and 13% support among moderates and conservatives. An Oct. 8 poll showed she had doubled her backing among black Democrats and improved her standing among moderates and conservatives by 9 points.

The Quinnipiac poll from last week found she had 29% support among Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters overall, compared to 26% for Biden and 16% for Sanders.

“She has incrementally picked up ground and, given the margin of error, is tied with Joe Biden,” said Quinnipiac polling analyst Tim Malloy. “She’s turning this into a two-person race.”

Malloy noted that future polls will better reflect how the impeachment inquiry has affected Warren and Biden.

The spotlight may be dimmer on Warren during the proceedings in the House, but it could be harsher on Biden, experts say. Democrats are probing whether Trump abused his office in asking Ukraine, in part, for dirt on Biden.

Biden as vice president had sought the ouster of a Ukrainian prosecutor while his son Hunter served on the board of an energy company that had been investigated by that prosecutor. The Ukraine prosecutor who replaced the ousted one said he found no wrongdoing by the Bidens.

Warren confronted a different sort of scrutiny of her record last week.

The senator defended her account of being 22, “visibly pregnant” and summarily shown the door by the principal at the school where she had taught. The Free Beacon and other conservative news outlets noted that she did not mention being dismissed in previous public remarks and that school board meeting records showed her contract was initially extended.

Warren said her description of what happened changed over the years as she become more comfortable discussing discrimination.

Monica Klein, a New York-based Democratic consultant, said the candidate’s response reflected her ability to stick to her message.

“She immediately turned around and said, ‘Let’s talk about maternal discrimination and discrimination against women in the workplace,’” Klein said.

Mary Anne Marsh, a Boston-based Democratic strategist, said Warren's candidacy has been built to withstand turmoil.

“The Warren campaign has been a very disciplined, methodical campaign and they’ve built a really strong foundation,” Marsh said. “That is what serves you well in good times and in tough times.”

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