(CNN) — Sen. Elizabeth Warren in her first visit to New Hampshire in more than two years made the case for radical reform in Washington, telling voters here that the time for “change at the margins” has passed.
Returning to the trail a week after making her debut as a likely presidential candidate in Iowa, Warren again hammered a government, led now by President Donald Trump, that she described as fatally compromised by wealthy influence peddlers.
“This is about who the rules work for,” Warren said. “We need to make change in this country. Not little, itty-bitty change. Not change at the margins. Not a nibble around the edges. Not even pass one good law here and one good law there. We need to make systemic change in this country.”
New Hampshire could be an electoral linchpin for Warren, who will arrive here next year with outsize expectations — the two most recent Democratic presidential nominees from Massachusetts won the next-door primary — and likely at least one other likely high-powered 2020 rival in Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who also represents a bordering state. Sanders defeated Clinton in New Hampshire by more than 20 percentage points three years ago.
Nancy Johnson, who voted for Sanders then but drove down 20 miles down from Northwood to see Warren on Saturday, said the 2020 contest would, for her, be a two-horse race — with Warren currently a few lengths ahead.
“She’s younger and she’s female. I wish Bernie had gotten the nomination in 2016. I really, really wish that he had,” Johnson said. Of Warren, she added: “I like her the way she is. I don’t think she needs to change anything. I liked the way she delivers her message. She’s very precise in what she says. I’ve heard people call her strident but I’ve never heard her be strident — maybe people think that because she’s female and she’s standing up for herself.”
On her second straight Saturday on the stump, after making her pitch — five times in less than 48 hours — to overflow rooms across Iowa last weekend, Warren again led with the progressive populist message that has over a decade entrenched her as a favorite among the party’s feistier liberal wing.
Based on her remarks in these early stages, Warren appears to believe winning over the party, and perhaps the country, does not, for now, require attacking Trump by name, head-on.
“I think we need to talk about our affirmative vision,” Warren told reporters after being asked why she didn’t talk about the President more directly. “I’m willing to fight. Everybody knows that. The question is: How do we build an America that works?”
Her argument to voters in New Hampshire, 1,200 miles from Iowa, was largely the same as it has been, even if her company was a bit more varied. Warren’s husband Bruce Mann and their dog, Bailey, who had a GoPro camera strapped to his back, joined her at the beginning of the event.
Warren went to a house party with organizers in Concord after she wrapped at Manchester Community College, an appearance that marked her first visit to the state since she rallied for Hillary Clinton and then-Gov. Maggie Hassan, who was on her way winning a Senate seat, in September 2016. Warren spent a few hours of Election Day that year in the state before returning home.
Warren received an in-state boost this week when the New Hampshire Democratic Party invited her to deliver the keynote speech at their McIntyre-Shaheen 100 Club Dinner. First held in 1959 to trumpet the candidacy of a future president, John F. Kennedy, who headlined it then, the gathering in 2019 will put Warren in close quarters with prominent activists and party officials.
Thirteen months out from the first round of primary voting, Warren is still working to build her appeal as a presidential contender with the party’s most engaged and energetic ranks. She did not run television ads during her own Senate re-election campaign in Massachusetts last year, forgoing a chance to get a word in with the voters next door — Boston and Manchester are largely part of the same media market — but did lend a pair of staffers to the state party and send it $5,000 from her own campaign coffers, part of a larger outlay to state parties in all 50 states. She also hosted a fundraising event for New Hampshire Democrats in Boston last year.
Democrats are on the rise in New Hampshire. In 2018, the party took back control of both chambers of the state legislature and all four of its representatives on Capitol Hill, two in the Senate — Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen — and both of its House members — Chris Pappas and Annie Kuster — are Democrats.
But Clinton only won the state by about 3,000 votes, or less than .5%, in 2016, and the Democrats’ one blemish here in 2018, the re-election of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu over Democrat Molly Kelly, suggests the state could remain a battleground beyond its primary, all the way through to November of 2020.