Elizabeth Warren’s creative media-dodging habits are a running joke among her home-state press corps. Whenever the senator makes a public appearance, Massachusetts reporters know to keep one eye fixed on the exit doors.
But that might be changing.
In just the last week alone, the notoriously press-averse progressive icon held three open-to-media events back home, followed by lengthy huddles with reporters on a wide range of issues ranging from her Senate votes to Donald Trump’s wiretapping accusations to the 2020 race.
Following her most recent press availability in Worcester, she shook hands with the half-dozen assembled reporters — and even asked if everyone “got what they needed.”
In Boston and Washington, where Warren is known for being as stingy with the media on Capitol Hill as back home, the sudden thaw has political operatives questioning what’s behind the change of heart.
“I always wondered why she wasn’t more accommodating to the press. You can be combative, it can be confrontational, but it’s always a long-term much better strategy to engage with the press,” said Democratic strategist Scott Ferson. “It’s not as if she has to be concerned about engagement with the press. She’s good on her feet.”
Yet you wouldn’t know it from some of Warren’s inventive attempts to evade the media. In addition to standard refusals to answer questions, the senator has bolted out side doors to avoid interviews and gone to great lengths to avoid questions such as who did she vote for in the Democratic presidential primary.
With Warren up for re-election in 2018, the first-term Democratic senator now has plenty of incentive to amp up her media profile back home. The state Republican Party has stepped up its attacks on her over the last year, and it might be leaving a bruise: A January poll sent shockwaves through the state by reporting that 46 percent of respondents said it’s time for someone else to have a shot at the Senate.
“It’s not surprising Sen. Warren is scrambling to rehab her toxic image here at home,” said Terry MacCormack, the state GOP’s communications director.
Few expect Warren will get a competitive challenge next year. So far, Republicans have struggled to find a viable challenger. The only declared candidate is little-known Belmont entrepreneur Shiva Ayyadurai, who claims he invented the email.
Warren aides acknowledged an uptick in the senator’s media engagement since January, pointing to the increased number of appearances and press events as a way to allow her to voice concern over actions of the Trump White House. Earlier this week, in an effort to shore up her 2018 re-election effort, she hired Kristen Orthman, a well-respected communications staffer who previously worked for former Democratic Leader Harry Reid.
“It’s fun to get out,” Warren told POLITICO on Thursday. “When you’re down in Washington all the time, it’s good to feel like you’re back home and get a chance to talk to people. I’ve missed it.”
She hangs the change in her posture on the new White House occupant. “I spent a lot of time after Trump got elected working inside Washington with my colleagues, with my staff, with other people in some of the agencies trying to figure out how we organize this resistance. And now it’s good to have an opportunity to talk to real folks.”
Others see presidential ambitions at work. Warren’s brand of no-holds-barred liberalism has electrified the party’s progressive wing, winning her frequent mention as one of the top 2020 Democratic prospects — in November, Reid asked her to seriously consider running in four years.
In one of her press scrums this week, Warren told reporters that it was a “very generous suggestion from Senator Reid but that’s not something I am thinking about.”
But if she does move in that direction, she’ll have to apply one of the lessons learned from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign: a candidate with a strong aversion to the press will likely struggle with the sharp glare and onerous demands of the modern news cycle.
“Warren is a smart person. Looking back at what worked and what didn’t for Hillary in 2016, Warren has a similar problem with reporters,” said Colin Reed, the executive director of America Rising PAC who worked on the campaign of Warren’s GOP foe, Sen. Scott Brown, in 2012. “The irony of her press aversion is given her background as law professor and that she went to undergrad on a debate scholarship, this should be a natural setting for her.”
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