Why Elizabeth Warren's 2015 Kick-Off Speech Matters

It's not just what she said Wednesday. It's where and when she said it.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was in her element Wednesday morning, telling an audience at D.C.'s Gallaudet University that economic recovery has yet to reach the middle class.

But what's just as important as what Warren said is where and when she said it: as a keynote at a major labor event, just weeks after progressives launched a massive draft movement aimed at making Warren the 2016 Democratic alternative to Hillary Clinton.

"A lot of broad national economic statistics say our economy is getting better, and it is true that the economy, overall, is recovering from the terrible crash of 2008," Warren said. "But there have been deep structural changes in this economy, changes that have gone on for more than 30 years, changes that have cut out hard-working, middle-class families from sharing in this overall growth."

The freshman senator also blasted the perceived evils of "trickle-down economic theory," saying that Republicans and Democrats alike who call for deregulation are just "turning loose big banks" to "do whatever they wanted to do."

Warren also said the issue of wages is "personal" for her, citing her father's heart attack and her mother's decision to get a minimum-wage job as a result.

"Unlike today, a minimum-wage job back then paid enough to support a family of three," she said. "That minimum-wage job saved our home—and saved our family."

Many of the issues Warren trumpets—a focus on the middle class, raising the minimum wage, protecting Social Security and Medicare, taking on Wall Street—are labor's bread and butter, and unions played a big role in Warren's 2012 Senate victory in Massachusetts. It's not surprising that she'd speak to union members.

But this was a high-profile event at the start of 2015—and Warren has spent the past month in the midst of intense presidential speculation, as groups like MoveOn and Democracy for America launch a million-dollar draft effort on her behalf. Ready for Warren—part of the larger Draft Warren movement—is, for example, using Warren's speech on Wednesday to organize a series of pro-Warren house parties across the country.

The Clintons have long-standing ties to labor, but national labor leaders have said that they don't want her to take them for granted—and that she'll have to earn their support. Those same leaders are taking a wait-and-see approach, and Warren would be an appealing candidate for many labor leaders and union members.

That said, Warren has said repeatedly that she's not running for president. Thus far, the closest indication of her interest that supporters have is her verb tense—she has often said, "I am not running," not "I will not run"—but if Warren keeps giving high-profile speeches like this, her supporters will have more than just tense to back up the idea that she might be coaxed into a 2016 bid.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the date the speech took place. It was Wednesday, January 7.