CINCINNATI, OH — Long before Elizabeth Warren joined Hillary Clinton on the campaign stage on Monday, the senator from Massachusetts had proven herself to be one of most effective surrogates this cycle for the Clinton campaign.
The question Monday was: would she be the vice presidential nominee?
Ohio voters gathered in Cincinnati’s Union Terminal weren’t so sure. It wasn’t her credentials that worried voters. The prospect of two women on the ticket is what gave them pause.
“I’m a little concerned about her being the VP choice, I’m not sure about two women, I don’t know if the county’s quite ready for that,” said Susan Knox, a retired human resources professional from Cincinnati, said. “I wouldn’t be unhappy, but I want to win here.”
Kelly O’Connell, of Cincinnati, agreed, “I don’t know that it’s strategic to have two women on the ticket.” Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, she added, would be a good choice, but he might not “ be enough of a draw.”
Maureen Pelletier, an obstetrician, suggested Warren would be an excellent choice for Commerce Secretary.
“I might look for someone who would attract more GOP voters,” she said. “If we have two women and they are from the Northeast, it’s not going to happen.”
Debbie Walsh, the director of the Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University, noted that thinking ran counter to recent polling.
In a June 22 CNN/ORC poll, 86 percent of those surveyed said it wouldn’t make a difference in their vote if Clinton selected a woman as her running mate. Walsh suggested that perhaps some of the voters were simply echoing years of conventional wisdom.
“I’d remind them that we’ve been comfortable with single gender tickets for a very long time,” Walsh said. “Clinton may or may not select her, but gender shouldn’t be the deciding factor.”
Liam Neess, a campaign manager for a local congressional candidate, said it was less about gender than strategy that might keep Warren from being the ultimate choice.
“I think Elizabeth Warren would be fantastic, obviously she’d be a great person to bring together the Bernie supporters and the Hillary crowd together,” he said. “But for a general election strategy I don’t know that it’s the best choice.”
Neess noted that Warren’s absence from the Senate would allow Massachusetts’ GOP governor to appointment a fellow Republican to her seat.
“I would rather see somebody that comes from a state with a Democratic governor,” he said.
But no matter her future in a Clinton administration, it was clear she would be a valuable hype man—okay, hype woman—on the campaign trail. The high, gold ceilings inside the art-deco terminal seemed to shake as Warren rallied the crowd.
“Donald Trump says he’ll make America great again,” she said. “It’s right there. it’s stamped on the front of his goofy hat.”
“You want to see goofy? Look at him in that hat,” she added, a clear nod to Trump’s somewhat unimaginative nickname for her.
She was just getting started.
“When Donald Trump says “great,” I ask, great for who, exactly? For millions of kids struggling to pay for an education? For millions of seniors barely surviving on social security? For families that don’t fly to Scotland to play golf?” she said. “When Donald Trump says he’ll make America great, he means make it even greater for rich guys just like Donald Trump.”
After another round of Trump insults, Warren paused, saying. “I could do this all day.”
“Hillary has brains, she has guts, she has thick skin and steady hands, but most of all, she has a good heart,” Warren said. “And that’s what America needs! and that’s why I’m with her. Are you with her?”
She was so effective that when she was finished it didn’t seem entirely necessary for Clinton to speak at all.
But when Clinton did, her speech was peppered with more than the usual references to a normal surrogate: stories about talking on the phone with “Elizabeth,” references to working with her gal pal once Clinton is in the White House, and even admiring “Elizabeth’s” tough questioning of Wall Street types in committee.
“Now, some of the best TV since Elizabeth came to the senate is actually on C-Span,” Clinton said. “So whenever you see her pressing a bank executive or a regulator for answers, refusing to let them off the hook, remember, she is speaking for every single American who is frustrated and fed up.”
Later, after taking her turn skewering Trump, Clinton said, “I must say, I do just love to see how she gets under Donald Trump’s thin skin.”
It wasn’t always this chummy.
In her 2003 book The Two Income Trap, Warren wrote that Clinton changed her mind on a bill that Warren believed would have rolled back bankruptcy protections for the middle class, because she was wooed by campaign donations. While she initially opposed the bill, Warren wrote, by 2001 that had changed.
“As New York’s newest senator, however, it seems that Hillary Clinton could not afford such a principled position,” Warren wrote. “Campaigns cost money, and that money wasn’t coming from families in financial trouble. Senator Clinton received $140,000 in campaign contributions from banking industry executives in a single year, making her one of the top two recipients in the Senate.”
“Big banks were now part of Senator Clinton’s constituency. She wanted their support, and they wanted hers—including a vote in favor of ‘that awful bill.’”
But those days of judgement and disappointment seemed far, far away as the stood on stage together, laughing and waving.
“Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States because she knows what it takes to beat a thin-skinned bully, who is driven by greed and hate,” Warren said before turning to mic over to Clinton. “She’s been on the receiving end of one right-wing attack after another for 25 years. but she has never backed down…No, she just remembers who really needs someone on their side.”