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2020 Vision: A Single Step in a Long Journey for Warren?…

Sen. Elizabeth Warren takes the stage in Holyoke (WMassP&I)

HOLYOKE—It started as a town hall, the 36th Elizabeth Warren had held since Donald Trump took office. It may go down as where she made her most explicit comments about her future.

Warren, Massachusetts Senior United States Senator, is running for reelection this year and trying to boost Democratic efforts to take back Congress. Yet, ever since she transitioned from consumer advocate and law professor to politician, the notion she could run for president has danced in her progressive followers’ heads. Staff moves and policy proposals have raised eyebrows, but they may shoot into the stratosphere after Saturday’s remarks.

“After November 6, I will take a hard look at running for president,” Warren said answering a question about her 2020 plans.

Warren gets standing ovations uttering the word “persist”—and she did. Her promise to consider the presidency set off boisterous cheer in the municipal theater in Holyoke City Hall. Almost immediately it was reverberating from the rafters here out into the wider political universe.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren in 2017.(WMassP&I)

Although presidential campaigns have elongated into nearly two-year slogs, they rarely start before the preceding midterm. Those seeking reelection in that midterm like Warren and other possible presidential contenders are especially careful. In deference to Bay State voters in 2018, Warren has avoided declaring any 2020 plans. Her Saturday comments were a relatively minor deviation.

However, it was also her clearest recognition of the desire for her to run.

Massachusetts and DC politicos have read, sometimes overread, other Warren moves as proof of her ambition. Staff changes, bill introductions, and committee assignments have become runes for the punditocracy to decipher. The interpretations often discount more banal explanations: Warren wants good people; is a policy wonk and seeks knowledge outside her expertise.

In Holyoke, she was less coy, but perhaps saying less than analysts will claim.

Warren’s town halls were originally official events her Senate office ran. They shifted to the campaign side as 2018 began, but kept the same form of speech, Q&A, and pictures with supporters.

Today followed much of the same pattern. The only oddity was the protesters Warren’s kookier general election opponent, Shiva Ayyadurai, sent. They had commandeered City Hall’s Dwight Street entrance and shoved literature and ostensibly recording smartphones into attendees’ faces. Holyoke Police kept the sides separate to allow attendees to enter unmolested.

Upstairs in the auditorium where Holyoke officials usually receive the oath of office, Sasha Jimenez, a Democratic party organizer offered initial introductions. She exhorted the assembled mass to volunteer. Jimenez said 30,000 fewer voters in Holyoke and Springfield alone were likely vote this year compared to 2016.

Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle laid out the process for asking questions—essentially a lottery with numbers that Holyoke City Councilor Jossie Valentin would later call.

Sen. Warren on stage with Mayor Alex Morse. (WMassP&I)

Holyoke’s Mayor, Alex Morse, introduced Warren and praised her advocacy for cities like his. He underscored her work on behalf of Puerto Rico—from which many Holyokers hail—even before Hurricane Maria and the following inept federal response devastated the island.

“I couldn’t ask for a better partner in DC than Elizabeth Warren,” he proclaimed.

Warren entered with her typical boundless energy, noting how beautiful a day it was.

“And yet you came inside to talk about policy and politics,” she said, adding that interest was something great about representing Massachusetts.

Warren’s pre-question speech was relatively short. She riffed on the hot mess that was the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing with Christine Blasey Ford and the man she accused of attempting to rape her 36 years ago, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Warren tore into Republicans’ aversion to questioning Blasey Ford directly. Then Warren condemned the tendency of some male pols to demand women, LGBT people, debt-beleaguered students—name your demo—to just keep quiet.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m proud to have this nasty woman as my senator,” Valentin said as the question segment began.

Prof. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony riveted the nation. (via wikipedia)

It was clear the Kavanaugh-Blasey Ford hearing was on many women’s minds. Warren told one woman, in essence, there was no simple way to change men who don’t believe women. While she agreed it was each victim’s prerogative to tell their story or not, doing so has an impact.

“You change the world a little bit,” each time a person speaks out, Warren said.

When the question came about her presidential ambitions—or not—Warren began with the perfunctory, though sincere nod to the commonwealth.

“It is the honor of a lifetime to go to Washington to fight on behalf of the people of this state,” she began.

Warren excoriated the damage Trump is doing to American democracy and cowardice of Republicans. She cited, as an example, the 11 GOP Senators who hid behind hired help during Blasey Ford’s testimony. Warren hammered on the need to take back one or both house of Congress in the midterms.

After that throat-clearing, she said more women needed to be in Washington, including at the top. She then promised her “hard look” at 2020. The audience rocketed to their feet.

While the political media reaction went as expected—heads in the press area looked up in near-unison, too—Warren’s language prompts questions as much as it answers them. She only definitively promised to think about running. Her lengthy answer deliberately buried the lede. Overall, it seemed intended to move past this inevitable, frequent question.

Nevertheless, her campaign tweeted out video of her answer.

Warren’s decision to put off even contemplation of 2020—again, publicly—lends credibility to her emphasis on 2018. She uttered more words about helping Democrats up and down the ballot nationwide than 2020.

Some pundits have long read her investments in state parties as a 2020 power move. Warren highlighted them as essential to bolstering Democratic turnout in 2018. Although she campaigned more widely for Martha Coakley in 2014, Warren has channeled key resources into Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez’s bid, too, via the state party.

Whether Warren’s staffing or policy ideas really presage a presidential bid or not, she does want to see Democratic majorities in Washington and elsewhere. It’s not just about halting Trump, but also establishing an alternative vision for the country. This was Warren’s primary political message in Holyoke. She may go no further than that after November 6.

Still, in the 147 year-old City Hall auditorium, as light streamed in through the room’s stained-glass windows, some of the faithful were looking for more. For the first time, here in Holyoke, she acknowledged that desire and promised to consider a higher calling.

Holyoke City Hall (WMassP&I)