Opinion: Elizabeth Warren just became the ultimate Democratic debate overdog

Elizabeth Warren speaking to a crowd of potential voters in Detroit on June 4.
(Kathleen Galligan / TNS)

Elizabeth Warren fans rejoice: The Massachusetts senator and surging presidential candidate just nabbed the top seed in the easiest, breeziest debate bracket possible.

Her stiffest competition will come from Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), the presidential-campaign equivalent of March Madness teams from “mid-major” conferences such as the Ohio Valley or the Big West. And none of the three have matched the lofty hype bestowed upon them by preseason prognosticators.

The other side of the bracket — the second night of Democratic primary debates— is a political royal rumble. All four of the non-Warren frontrunners— former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg — will be sharing the stage, battling for sound-bite supremacy.


Even the longshot would-be Cinderella, internet hero Andrew Yang, could get hot and pull off an upset with a barrage of universal basic income three-pointers. Meanwhile, Warren will be dunking on Twitter punchline Bill de Blasio.

To switch metaphors from college to pro hoops (and conjure up a comparison I never thought I’d write): Elizabeth Warren appears to be playing the role that LeBron James played before he boarded the Titanic, err, the Lakers. With the Miami Heat and the Cleveland Cavaliers, James perennially prospered from extreme NBA conference imbalance, as four or five title contenders ripped each others’ throats out in the Western Conference playoffs while his teams walked over cute but ultimately impotent rivals in the Eastern Conference. In this metaphor, I think Beto is the Brad Stevens Celtics: charming and even impressive at times — just never the talent we thought they’d be.

Or maybe Warren is Tom Brady, cruising through the regular season and into the playoffs by racking up wins in the paper-thin AFC East (which would make de Blasio the Buffalo Bills).

Either way, she’s the clear overdog on an outgunned debate stage. Wager accordingly.

Brian Boyle is The L.A. Times editorial page intern.