But first, of course, she’ll have to beat Brown, who’s spent the last two years preparing for this sort of challenge. As foils go, bank executives and smug Treasury secretaries look a lot more villainous than a guy in a barn jacket. “He’s not a particularly Wall Street figure,” concedes Barney Frank. Which is why Warren would be smart to stick to the larger themes that have already served her so well. “The best Senate campaigns are the ones that take on the nature of a crusade,” says former Obama adviser Anita Dunn, “when a race takes on a level of meaning for people that is more than mere politics. Elizabeth has that potential to be one of those transcendent candidates.”
One recent evening, while she was sitting in a booth at Doyle’s bar in Boston waiting for her order of fried shrimp to arrive, I asked Warren about her transcendent qualities—or at least why she thought that YouTube video from the Andover house party had gone viral. “Because it was right,” she replied. “Because people said, ‘Oh, that’s something we haven’t talked about.’ If I state it in a way that helps other people state it as well, that’s what advancing a conversation is about.”
The next day, though, after Warren had taken a tour of a fish-processing plant in Gloucester, she sought me out in the parking lot. “I woke up at three o’clock in the morning and realized that answer I gave you about the video was terrible,” she said. “Conversation is the wrong word.” She was running to a meeting and had to go, but a few days later, I got Warren on the phone so she could give it another shot.
“It’s so much more than just a conversation,” she said. “I found myself thinking in the middle of the night, what a bland description of a powerful—” She paused. “God, this is the problem, I can’t think of a better word to describe it. Of a powerful moment. We’re talking about the future of our country. People stop me on the street and say, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re Elizabeth Warren!’ and I say ‘Yes!’ And then they’ll say, ‘I’ve got a good job, but I have a son who graduated from college fifteen months ago and has more than $100,000 in student-loan debt, and he can’t get a job. Please help us. Thank you for running.’ To call that a conversation, I just was thinking to myself, it misses the heart of what’s going on here.” She paused again, searching for another anecdote that might get her point across. “A woman came up to me at an event and said, ‘I have two master’s degrees and I’ve now been out of work for 22 months, I’m in my fifties, and I’m not sure I will ever get a real job again. What’s happened to America?’ ”
“That was the kind of thing,” Warren told me. “I just felt like, I didn’t give enough of the heart of what’s going on here. That was my three-in-the-morning thing. And tomorrow morning at three o’clock, I will think of something else.”