COUNCIL BLUFFS — Elizabeth Warren started with a story about her childhood.
Growing up in Oklahoma, her older brothers out of the house, it was Warren and her parents. When her father had a heart attack and was out of work, “the bills piled up” and “we lost the family station wagon.”
Warren remembered her mom getting ready for a job interview, repeating to herself, “We will not lose this house.” Warren’s mother, who at 50 years old hadn’t worked, got a minimum wage job at Sears.
“That minimum wage job saved our home and saved our family,” the Massachusetts senator told a crowd of about 500 at Thunderbowl’s The Gathering Room in Council Bluffs on Friday night.
The stop was Warren’s first in a western and central Iowa swing that comes on the heels of her announcing an exploratory committee for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Wrapping up the anecdote, Warren said that a minimum wage job used to be able to help support a family of three but no longer does.
“What would it take for a family of three to thrive? That’s what we need to ask,” she said.
Throughout her speech and during an interview ahead of the event, Warren hammered on the point of helping working families.
“All of my adult career has been spent around one central question — what’s happening to working families in America? Why has America’s middle class been hollowed out?” she asked the crowd. “The answer is not that people don’t work hard.”
The senator mentioned money as a corrupting on public policy, pointing to prescription drug costs, student loan debt and unfettered drilling for oil among the examples. Warren said the government as it currently operates works for those moneyed interests.
“It’s on the side of big drug companies, not people who are trying to fill a prescription. It’s on the side of big financial institutions, not people’s whose social security number was stolen,” she said in the interview. “When government is on the side of giant corporations and not the people, day by day, inch by inch it gets harder for working families to have security.”
Warren told the crowd, “We have to remember in this room, there’s a whole lot more of us than there is of them.”
During her speech, Warren called for the need to drive the money out of politics that influence campaigns. Warren said the focus should be on the grassroots. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Warren collected nearly 56 percent of her $34 million raised from small donors — donations of $200 or less — good for second among senators during the cycle.
Warren spoke for about 40 minutes before taking questions from the crowd. Topics included teacher pay and Medicaid. Asked about foreign policy, Warren warned against the rise of autocrats throughout the world.
She added, “I believe you should know the difference between your friends and your enemies.”
Warren contrasted her policies with ones being undertaken by the current White House administration.
Warren has often been a target of President Donald Trump, who has criticized her claim of Native American heritage, which critics say helped advance her career as a law professor. A DNA test by the senator in late 2018 didn’t quell the criticism.
Warren is beginning her second term in the Senate after winning election in 2012 and 2018. Before that, she helped create and served as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under President Barack Obama and was a Harvard law professor.
Most candidates who form an exploratory committee end up seeking the nomination. On Friday, Warren was noncommittal when asked if she would officially declare.
It’s early, but Warren is among the pack of visible and viable candidates in polls related to the 2020 Democratic primary.
A Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom poll of likely Iowa caucusgoers had former Vice President Joe Biden in first at 32 percent, followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at 19 percent, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke at 11 percent and Warren at 8 percent
The poll of 455 likely Democratic caucusgoers had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points and was conducted Dec. 10 through 13, according to the Register.
In New Hampshire, home of the nation’s first primary, a University of New Hampshire Survey Center polled 501 randomly selected New Hampshire adults, including 198 likely 2020 Democratic presidential primary voters Aug. 2 to Aug. 19, according to TV station WMUR in Manchester, New Hampshire.
The station reported that when asked an open-ended question of who they intend to vote for in the 2020 primary, 65 percent of likely Democratic voters said they were undecided. Sanders clocked in at 12 percent, with both Warren and Biden garnering 6 percent
The margin of error was 7 percent.
According to FiveThirtyEight.com, Warren is averaging 5 percent in seven national 2020 Democratic primary polls conducted since Election Day 2018.
There are two declared candidates in the 2020 Democratic primary. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland declared in July 2017 and was a constant sight in Iowa throughout 2018.
West Virginia State Sen. Richard Ojeda declared shortly after the 2018 election in November. Ojeda lost a bid for U.S. representative in the state’s 3rd Congressional District in that election.
Warren is hosting events in Sioux City, Storm Lake and Des Moines on Saturday, along with an event in Ankeny on Sunday.