What Elizabeth Warren said Saturday at the New Hampshire Democratic state convention might have sounded faintly familiar. “I am not afraid,” she declared. “And for Democrats to win, you can’t be afraid either.”
Consciously or not, Warren was echoing one of the most important lines of Barack Obama’s primary campaign against Hillary Clinton. “If we are really serious about winning this election, Democrats,” Obama declared at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on November 10, 2007, “we can’t live in fear of losing it.” That line became part of the message that won Obama the Iowa caucuses, and the Democratic nomination. And in the current primary campaign, it just might propel Warren to victory as well. Like Obama more than a decade ago, Warren is framing her insurgency against an establishment front-runner—in this case, Joe Biden—as a choice between conviction and caution. And in Democratic presidential primaries, conviction candidates with strong grassroots organizations often win.
When Obama delivered his Jefferson-Jackson speech, he was, by most accounts, well behind in his nomination battle. Clinton had led in Iowa virtually all year. She had out-raised him in the third quarter of 2007. In October, the New York Post had dubbed her the “inevitable nominee.” Even Obama himself, according to David Plouffe’s book The Audacity to Win, had told advisers days before the speech that “as things stand, I feel like we’ll … come up short.”