In August, Warren moved back to Massachusetts and, working with Rubin, began to lay the groundwork for her campaign. Her first major step was to hold a series of house parties around the state. Rubin had envisioned relatively low-key, press-free affairs that would allow Warren to meet with local Democratic activists and get her campaign sea legs. But the house parties quickly turned into something else entirely. Within a week, hundreds of people were turning out to hear Warren speak. When she showed up at an event in Western Massachusetts, she was greeted by an avalanche of homemade signs urging her to run.
No house party would become as significant as the one that a Democratic activist named M. J. Powell hosted in Andover in mid-August. When Warren officially announced her candidacy, on September 14, she did so with a web video, produced by the veteran Clinton consultant Mandy Grunwald, that had its populist moments (“Washington is rigged for big corporations that hire armies of lobbyists”) but, with its soft lighting and heavy focus on her upbringing, also came off as overly polished. Four days later, a Warren supporter named Anne Jones—who, unbeknownst to the campaign, had filmed Warren’s talk at the Andover house party—posted her own video on her YouTube channel that, until then, had only featured instructional videos about organic gardening. This was the Warren video that went viral.
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody,” Jones’s shaky camera catches Warren saying. Every successful businessman hires “workers the rest of us paid to educate” and moves his goods “on the roads the rest of us paid for.” More notable than her argument, though, is Warren’s tone—at turns angry, sarcastic, and, above all, uncompromising. “You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea—God bless, keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
Not since Obama in 2008 has a candidate seemed so perfectly matched to the public’s mood. “With Obama, people were tired of partisanship, and they were looking for a grown-up,” says one Democratic strategist. “This cycle, voters are pissed off. They’re not just looking for change, they’re looking for retribution, and she’s giving them a chance to have that.”
Within weeks, Warren had raised a staggering $3.15 million and essentially cleared the Democratic field of all challengers. In fact, Warren’s momentum is almost too great. On the night of the house party in Jamaica Plain, she fielded a question from a supporter who was frustrated that he was having a difficult time volunteering for her campaign. “This has happened so fast, we actually have not built the structure around it,” Warren apologized. “Instead of having a runway, I feel like a Harrier jet.”
In some ways, Warren’s campaign is not only a referendum on the last three years—but a chance to do them over. “I’ll just be blunt, I thought the whole fight was 2008,” she says. “We’d put sensible people in place, we’d write sensible rules, and we’d spend 50 years rebuilding America’s middle class.” The question that hangs over Obama—and the entire Democratic Party, for that matter—is why that didn’t happen. Warren believes the answer is that the political system, such as it’s currently constructed, simply didn’t allow for it. Unlike Hillary Clinton, the last politician who ran for Senate after having built such an outsize national reputation, Warren doesn’t seem terribly concerned about fitting in or diminishing her profile once she gets there. “If the notion on this is we’re going to elect somebody to the United States Senate so they can be the 100th least senior person in there and be polite,” she says, “and somewhere in their fourth or fifth year do some bipartisan bill that nobody cares about, don’t vote for me.”
She insists that she won’t play by the normal Washington rules, if only because she’ll have no incentive to do so. “I’m not looking for my next job,” she told me. “I figure that is the biggest liberator in Washington humanly possible … I’m not going—and I want to be careful here, I don’t want to do this in juxtaposition to Hillary or anybody else—I’m not going so that I can create a long and illustrious career in the Senate. I’m going to make change.”