By Will Weissert
CARSON CITY,— Elizabeth Warren was greeted by Republican activists chanting “Stop impeachment!” as she strode toward baggage claim at a Nevada airport. There were more protesters at a Carson Center rec center where she spoke, including one atop hay bales yelling “Trump 2020” until he was hoarse. And during her speech, Warren was interrupted by a man screaming “you’re all socialists!”
Warren wasn’t in Manhattan anymore.
The Massachusetts senator has proven she’s popular in Democratic strongholds, perhaps most memorably when she filled New York’s Washington Square Park last month. But as she’s rising in the polls and sitting on a fresh pile of campaign cash, Warren is also frequently hitting places where she might be less welcome. That includes Nevada’s capital, a conservative area with a proud cowboy streak that’s a seven-hour drive from the glitz of Democrat-friendly Las Vegas.
These trips test whether the progressive message that has fueled Warren’s rise can resonate in all regions. It’s an important hurdle for Warren to clear to prove that, if she were to become the Democratic nominee, she could win back voters in areas that sided with President Donald Trump in 2016.
Her trip last week to Carson City gave reason for optimism. Warren drew more than 1,000 people on a Wednesday night. And some of the loudest applause followed Warren’s most progressive pronouncements, especially when she declared: “I don’t want a government that works for giant multinational corporations.”
“It’s easy to think everything here is Reno,” said Jonathan Byrnside, a 38-year-old federal employee who came to see Warren from nearby Silver City. He was referring to the better-known locale famous for casinos — and, in a bygone era, lenient divorce laws — about 25 miles away, where Warren’s airport run-in occurred. “But there are a lot of people with progressive values who live in rural areas.”
It was Warren’s third visit to northern Nevada and she’s not the only Democratic presidential hopeful venturing into Republican areas. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont came a few weeks ago, while former Vice President Joe Biden visited Reno the same night Warren was in Carson City. California Sen. Kamala Harris was on the campus of the University of Nevada at Reno the following day.
Still, Warren’s crowd was larger than any of the others. The complex’s floor was so full that some attendees dragged metal benches to climb atop for a glimpse of the distant stage.
“This is huge for Carson City,” said 74-year-old Jim Woods, a retired construction engineer. Added his wife, Dianne: “This is red territory. It doesn’t look it now.”
Others aren’t so sure.
“Working-class America isn’t swayed by one stopover in Carson City,” said Rory McShane a Nevada-based Republican strategist who said the area’s ranchers are threatened by policies like Warren’s signature “wealth tax,” because it would potentially hit families with property worth millions even if they themselves are barely scrapping by.
Some supporters of her Democratic presidential opponents have grumbled, meanwhile, that any well-known Democrat can stage large rallies in reliably blue areas featuring $6 lattes and craft beer that outsells Budweiser. They question whether Warren’s core message of remaking the political system to empower everyday people may get lost in hipster-heavy locales that suggest she’s too elitist to appeal to the very working-class voters she’s most trying to excite.
“She’s trying to create the image that she’s getting these big crowds so she knows where they’ll play best,” said Ed Rendell, a former Democratic Party chairman and Pennsylvania governor who called Warren “unelectable” because of her vows to do away with private health insurance for a single payer “Medicare for All” plan.
Warren’s campaign notes that she’s spent months traveling to often deeply conservative areas, holding 139 town halls nationwide, including in West Virginia, Arizona and Alabama.
“The American people know the government is not working for them,” said spokeswoman Saloni Sharma. “She’s building a grassroots movement in red states and blue states — cities, suburbs and rural areas — to take on the corruption in Washington and make our country work for every person.”
Still, the criticism by those backing her Democratic White House rivals highlights what sometimes seem to be Warren’s dual personalities. The senator says in her heart, she’s the daughter of a poor Oklahoma family that clawed its way back from economic ruin who wants to help others now facing similar circumstances. But she’s also a former Harvard professor comfortable lecturing to the intellectual set and appearing in the likes of director Michael Moore’s anti-big business documentary “Capitalism: A Love Story.”
A night after her swing through Carson City, Warren held a rally that was more to type. She addressed a crowd that her campaign estimated at 8,500 that thronged a grassy park in downtown San Diego, buffered by swaying palm trees and cool breezes off the Pacific. The second-largest city in the largest blue state isn’t a Democratic stronghold but sports many a neighborhood famous for hipster prowess, and locals welcomed Warren adoringly as expected — with lines snaking for blocks, thunderous cheering and some attendees leaving home more than three hours before the event to be sure they could get in.
Even in San Diego, however, Warren’s progressive side shone through. She was introduced by California state lawmaker Lorena Gonzalez, a longtime labor leader who endorsed the Massachusetts senator on behalf of “working Californians.”
Matilda Mclaughlin, a 67-year-old retiree from Carlsbad, California, said Warren’s message runs counter to the idea that big crowds in places like San Diego will breed resentment among would-be supporters elsewhere.
“Her manner is approachable, it’s understandable and it’s decent. It’s not vulgar. She’s not looking to make enemies,” Mclaughlin said. “She’s looking to really draw us together, and why shouldn’t we? It’s time for the United States to grow up.”