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Beto O'Rourke, Elizabeth Warren: Democratic voters weigh personality, policy in primary race



Plymouth, N.H. – Former Rep. O'Rourke Beto spent the past week driving himself to some three boxes events across six states – finding an elevated surface on which to almost every stop – as part of his "show up everywhere," high- endurance campaign for the presidency.

Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren started the week with a nationally televised town hall in Mississippi, part of a methodical campaign swing through southern states to pitch her new affordable housing plan. Her call there to abolish the electoral college set off a national debate and perhaps a new litmus test for her Democratic competitors.

Warren has introduced most policy proposals into the 2020 presidential contest, including a universal child care program, a tax on the "ultra wealthy," and a plan to break up the big tech companies. But O'Rourke, who launched his campaign last week, raised $ 6.1

million in the first 24 hours with an average contribution of $ 48, besting every candidate in the field and outpacing Warren.

The headlines made by Warren, 69, and O'Rourke, 46, this week highlight a choice that has been particularly for the Democratic Party: whether to go big on policy or personality. But the choice in the 2020 primary has taken on a new dimension, as party voters measure the candidates not so much against one another but against President Donald Trump.

In the early stages of the campaign, Democratic voters have already concluded that defeating Mr. Trump is their first priority. But they are just starting to assess which candidate in the fixed democratic field offers the most effective contrast to the current president. "I don't think the policy differences between all of them are fixed," said Fred Nemeth, a restaurant owner from Bartlett. "There is an existential threat in the White House and we need to remove that."

Since this first campaign stop earlier this year, Warren has centered the rationale for her candidacy on the economy. "Today in America, a full-time minimum-wage job will not keep a mom and a baby out of poverty," she tells voters of why she is running. She often starts her stump speeches by recalling a scene from her childhood, when her father had a debilitating heart attack that forced her to find a minimum wage job at Sears, a job that "saved our house, but more importantly, it saved our family. "

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O'Rourke begins his stump speeches by speaking of his home town of El Paso , which he describes as "one of the few cities of the United States of America – safe not in spite of the fact that we are city of immigrants but safe because we are a city of immigrants." The forms congressman built a national profile by running against Ted Cruz for the U.S. Senate last year. And even though he lost, he often invoked that contest as a reason for seeking a higher office, noting it within three points of defeating a Republican in a red Texas and quadrupled young voter turnout in the process.

If Warren, a former Harvard Law professor, is leading the charge on big policy prescriptions in the Democratic primary, O'Rourke sees himself as more of a student, invoking people he meets on the trail and the education they provide him.

"There is a lot to learn and the best way to learn is to listen to those issues first hand from their lives," he told CBS News after a stop at Plymouth State University. "And that's why we're showing up everywhere." While O'Rourke has been criticized for not offering specific proposals of his own – often simply agreeing to ideas suggested by others, or reversing course on previous positions, like testing for social security – he is not without a platform. During his swing through each of New Hampshire's 10 counties this week, he spoke of the ways in which climate change will eventually create a refugee crisis.

He also backs on assault weapons and supports expanded background checks, as well as universal pre-K. He called for criminal prosecution of pharmaceutical company executives involved in the opioid crisis and for the legalization of marijuana. He supports a federal $ 15 minimum wage. He advocates a non-interventionist approach to foreign policy, often citing the financial and humanitarian burden of decades-long wars. And he told reporters that he prefers more regulation of tech companies instead of breaking them up, than Warren has proposed.

He also rejected donations from corporate political action committees in his Senate campaign, which has now become something of a requirement for entry in the 2020 presidential primary.

"My vision for the country is something I offer and introduce at every stop," O'Rourke told reporters when asked about the lack of policy ideas on his website. "And [voters’] vision for the country is something I list to every meeting and every stop and I will continue to do that."

He also acknowledged that his ability to do that comes from a position of privilege. In an interview with the New York Times this week, Andrew Gillum, who lost a narrow race for Florida governor last year, said O'Rourke "enjoys a set of privileges in his decision making that other candidates don't. Can you imagine it for any of the women who are in the race for president or considering a run? "

Asked by reporters whether that assessment was true, O'Rourke was blunt: "Yes."

"As a white man in this country there are a set of circumstances that are different from those for women, than they are for people of color," he said after a town hall at a brewery in Conway. "It's incumbent upon me to recognize that and to ensure that this campaign reflects the genius of the country."

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While both Warren and O'Rourke have national recognition, voters appear to have a more sense of the Massachusetts senator's position. And that dynamic has opportunities and liabilities for each of them.

"I'm not one of those people who expect him to have a plan for every contingency. We know how that came out last time," said Slavek Grzelkowski, a retiree from Melvin Village who came to see O'Rourke in Conway. Grzelkowski said voted for Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary, but is now looking for other options. Now, he's interested in Sens. Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar found O'Rourke to be an "inspirational, energetic man." Warren, he said, "has a lot of expertise up front, and not enough listening." Patricia Rice, an academic specialist from Laconia, said she wants someone with young blood. "I want someone who understands better than Donald Trump, what the heck is going on here," she said after seeing O'Rourke in Plymouth. "When you're just talking policy, that's where Bernie went wrong. Wouldn't it be great to have free education? Yes, but that was an overreach, and it turned out to be a lot of people off." East Conway said O'Rourke "sometimes feels a little wishy-washy. I want to see some more strength out of him. Especially if he's going to go up against Trump, which is the thing I'm measuring everybody against. I think Trump could maybe brow beat him in a debate. "

On Warren, Copeland said "I love all of her policy issues. I just hate to say, sometimes she's very professorial. I want the young, I don't want another septuagenarian in there. But she's great in policy, she Be great to have on the team. "

Copeland said she is very interested in Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor from South Bend, Indiana, and finds herself to be effectively balancing policy and personality. better start talking about policy, "" said Fran Arsenault, a realtor who came to see O'Rourke in Keene, referring to the senator's televised town hall this week. "But I think that will come."

"The field is wide and far," said Reed Van Rossum, a teacher from Bartlett, who came to learn more about O'Rourke in Conway. "This is like showing up to Thanksgiving dinner where there are so many plates on the table. I don't know where to start."


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