- The Washington Times - Monday, April 8, 2019

Washington insiders question Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s likability, while President Trump and other Republicans dismiss her as a joke. But Iowa Democrats put her on the list of “nice guys” among the Democratic presidential contenders.

Don’t underestimate the power of nice in Iowa, where pressing the flesh and old-fashioned retail politicking often help win the country’s leadoff caucuses.

“There’s a lot of stir around Warren lately,” said Laura Hubka, chairwoman of the Howard County Democratic Party in northeast Iowa on the border with Minnesota.

Asked about who’s nice, she mentioned Ms. Warren in the same breath as unequivocal nice guy Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who surged to third place in a recent Iowa poll.

Ms. Warren has made reining in Wall Street and corporate America her political hallmark and comes across to Iowa voters as “very working-class friendly,” Ms. Hubka said.

In central Iowa, Carroll County Democratic Party Chairman Peter Leo said Ms. Warren is considered nice and a good communicator.

“Folks have described her to me as warm, friendly and open. Those qualities are very important for the caucuses because as much as we want a nominee with strong intellectual ability and good judgment, we also want a nominee who displays the kind of empathy and kindness we have for one another,” he said. “Sen. Warren’s biggest strength is that she has all of those qualities.”

It is a jarring image makeover for the senator from Massachusetts, who was described in a January profile in Vanity Fair magazine as coming across on Capitol Hill as “holier than thou,” “aloof” and having a “moralizing” tone.

Mr. Trump labeled her “Pocahontas” to mock her erroneous claim of American Indian heritage, underscoring criticism that she is a phony.

But the two-term senator’s ability to connect with voters on the campaign trail, including with an inspiring story of overcoming growing up poor in Oklahoma, helped put her in the top tier of candidates in Iowa.

She is running on lifting up working-class Americans by strengthening labor unions, cracking down on corporations and imposing an “ultramillionaire tax” to fund universal child care and student loan debt relief, as well as starting to pay for the Green New Deal and a “Medicare for All” program for government-run health care.

Ms. Warren finished a distant third with 9% support, behind front-runner Joseph R. Biden Jr. at 26% and Bernard Sanders at 24.5% in a Real Clear Politics average of recent polls.

A recent Emerson College survey showed Mr. Buttigieg, Sen. Kamala D. Harris and Ms. Warren closely bunched behind the two front-runners, with 11%, 10% and 9%, respectively.

Sen. Cory A. Booker received 6%, Beto O’Rourke got 5% and Sen. Amy Klobuchar got 2.5% in the early poll.

Political strategist Doug Heye, a former top adviser to the Republican National Committee, said he wasn’t completely surprised by Ms. Warren’s newfound likability.

“Where she can often come off as unlikable, at least to Republicans, in speeches, there’s a broad sense I’ve heard among Democrats that she does very well in one-on-one conversations with voters,” he said. “That kind of direct voter contact, the kind that people then tell their friends about, is the name of the game in Iowa.”

He cautioned that someone such as Ms. Warren could find it difficult to sustain her first impression in the spotlight of the debate stage, though.

“That can tend to overshadow individual voter contact,” Mr. Heye said.

The Democratic field has plenty of other candidates vying for the “nice guy” title.

“People really like Mayor Pete. They like Beto. Just from the standpoint of, boy, they do seem like nice people,” said Bret Nilles, chairman of the Democratic Party in Linn County, Iowa. “The only one who has the reputation of not being a real friendly person would be Sen. Sanders.”

Although Mr. Sanders lost the 2016 Iowa caucuses to Hillary Clinton by less than 1 percentage point and ranks as an early front-runner for 2020, Mr. Nilles said being nice remains a valuable currency.

“You don’t have to be the front-runner right now to end up as the eventual winner of the Iowa caucus 330 days from now,” he said. “You really want to build that relationship, that connection now, to encourage people to stick with you over these next 10 months and to be willing to come out there in February of 2020.”

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