Ukraine? Impeachment? No, Elizabeth Warren sticks to the plan at San Diego rally

Sen. Elizabeth Warren at a rally Thursday night at Waterfront Park in San Diego.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The burgeoning impeachment proceedings against President Trump have knocked Washington and the political world off-kilter with new revelations by the hour. But as Sen. Elizabeth Warren rallied thousands of fans at a seaside San Diego park, there was little sign Trump’s scandals would upend her presidential campaign’s core message.

The words “Ukraine” and “China” — which have blared nonstop on cable news — went unmentioned. Impeachment was barely discussed. Instead, Warren on Thursday night stuck to her signature vow to use structural change to overhaul government and the economy.

That consistency was exactly what Isabelle Kay wanted to hear.

“She doesn’t get distracted,” Kay, a 62-year-old ecologist from La Jolla, said of the news from the nation’s capital. “It’s really good not to get entangled in it.”


Isabelle Kay of La Jolla
Isabelle Kay of La Jolla after Elizabeth Warren’s campaign rally in San Diego.
(Melanie Mason/Los Angeles Times)

It was a sentiment many attendees echoed, cheering Warren for continuing to emphasize her policy plans over the most recent headlines. Her biggest applause lines came as she discussed her anti-corruption platform, one of the first proposals she released in her campaign. She has continued to roll out policies aimed at corruption, including a tax on major lobbying expenditures by corporations and trade groups.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has jumped into the lead in the Democratic nomination race in California, a new poll finds.

“Let’s attack the corruption head-on,” Warren told the crowd, standing before a giant American flag. “Enough playing defense. I am ready to go on offense.”

Warren’s stump speech focused largely on her economic proposals, including a 2% annual wealth tax on those with fortunes over $50 million that has become a rallying cry for her supporters. Revenue from that tax, she said, would pay for universal child care and pre-K education, as well as a host of other social services.

Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren
Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren acknowledges the crowd’s applause while speaking at a town hall meeting at Waterfront Park in San Diego.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

When an audience member asked about her plan to confront police brutality, Warren recited a number of solutions for broader criminal justice reform, including legalizing marijuana, implementing national policing standards and urging the Justice Department to enforce civil rights laws.

Karl Rand, a San Diego attorney, said he appreciated how the Massachusetts senator spoke relatively little about the current White House occupant.

“Even though defeating Trump is our top priority, bashing Trump is an easy thing to do,” said Rand, 58. “It’s going to take more than that for somebody to get the job done.”

That’s not to say Warren hasn’t lobbed salvos at Trump. She was the first Democratic candidate to call for his impeachment this spring, after special counsel Robert S. Mueller III released his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. And on Twitter, she’s continued to react to recent news, including calling for the transcripts of conversations between the president and the leader of China, after CNN reported that Trump discussed her political prospects as well as those of former Vice President Joe Biden in a June phone call.

But other candidates have more directly taken on the latest developments while on the campaign trail. Biden delivered a speech in Reno on Wednesday centered on the impeachment inquiry, slamming Trump for attempting “to extort a foreign government — the government of Ukraine — to manufacture charges against me, to go after my family, and to undermine my candidacy for president.” Sen. Kamala Harris of California, meanwhile, has called for Twitter to ban the president from the platform.

In Iowa, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has moved into the lead. She’s grown her support with attention to detail and an ability to connect with voters.

Thursday’s event followed the formula of Warren campaign stops since the beginning of her run: a speech that starts with her Oklahoma upbringing — with extra emphasis this time on her brothers’ background in the armed forces in a nod to San Diego’s military ties — through her stutter-step path to becoming a law professor at Harvard, and then a brief rundown of her policies, a few audience questions, and then her famous selfie line.

Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren
Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren speaks at a town hall meeting at Waterfront Park in San Diego.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

But while the structure remains the same, the scale has become grander — a sign of Warren’s steady ascent in the polls. In last week’s UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, conducted for the Los Angeles Times, Warren had a significant lead in the Democratic presidential race in the state — the first choice of 29% of likely Democratic primary voters. She has seen similar polling gains in early-voting states such as Iowa and in national surveys.

“Oh, my God, she’s No. 1! It’s so exciting! She came back from behind so far, and her message is being heard,” said Julia Adame. The 67-year-old retiree from San Diego said she was considering other candidates such as California Sen. Kamala Harris, but she said that a candidate demonstrating strong support in polling and fundraising would help her determine her final pick.

Michael Cisneros said he’s been a Warren backer from the beginning of the primary, and was pleasantly surprised to see others jumping on board.

“I feel like people are seeing her like I see her,” he said.

The 49-year-old technical writer from south San Diego had plenty of company as he waited in line for a selfie with the candidate. The queue snaked around the rally site and into dimly lit parts of the park, but Cisneros said he was prepared to stick out the daunting wait.

“Oh, I’ll be here all night,” he said matter-of-factly. “It’s fine.”

It ended up being slightly more speedy: a 3½-hour wait for a coveted selfie. The wait didn’t appear to dampen Cisneros’ spirits. “Great energy and she was awesome,” he texted as he left the venue. “No one in line wanted to leave.”