THE BLOG
09/23/2014 03:55 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Clinton v. Warren: A Battle for the Soul of the Democratic Party in NYC This Week

Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Elizabeth Warren should be on cloud nine. In a speech on Friday the 'other woman' of Democratic politics, Hillary Clinton, made reference to Warren's most recent book Fighting Chance:

I want every one of our children to feel that they are inheriting the best of America ... that this country is on your side; that this country will give you the fighting chance, the fair shot you deserve.

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Just two days later, former President Bill Clinton told CNN's Fareed Zakaria that Warren is "an important part" of the future of the Democratic party.

These two women, who are so publicly locked in a battle for the soul of the Democratic party will go head-to-head in New York City this week. For her part,Clinton will be mingling with political, economic, academic, business, and entertainment a-listers -- everyone from His Majesty King Abdullah II Al Hussein of Jordan to the actor Leonardo DiCaprio -- at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI). On Wednesday she will appear on the dais with Melinda Gates, wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, to discuss gender equality and women's issues.

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Unfortunately for Clinton, she was set to kick off her CGI appearance the day after what many have billed as the largest march for climate change in history. This is problematic for the former Secretary of State because left-wing activists, those most likely to participate in the Democratic primaries, have long criticized Clinton for her failure to take a stronger stance on climate change.

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Warren, who has repeatedly said she won't take on Clinton in a run for presidency in 2016, was scheduled to be in town at the same time. On Monday, she appeared with EMILY's List president Stephanie Schriock to fundraise for pro-choice Democratic candidates.

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The juxtaposition of these two women battling it out in NYC this week is a fitting reminder of the struggle the Democratic party faces. While Clinton leads in the polls, has enormous establishment support and funding prowess, her reasons for running -- apart from the fact that she deserves it and has paid her dues -- remain unclear. So much so, she seems lately to be co-opting the message of her primary nemesis. Whereas Clinton's most recent 'I'm ready to run' book was unfortunately named Hard Choices -- hardly the message you want to send to idealistic, young, leftist primary goers. In contrast, the junior Senator from Massachusetts and her publishers chose Fighting Chance -- as in 'my focus is not backwards looking, a recitation of how hard I've had it, but on you and how I can help give you a shot at the middle class'. If nothing else, it reflects Warren's uncanny ability to stay on message.

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Clinton is smart enough to know when her book title has been beat -- and as a campaign slogan, it has. So it appears she recently decided to co-opt her main opponent's message. But the problem for Clinton is that she is so well-known, so ingrained in our conscience after all these decades that it is hard to turn the page. She may want to talk about giving us a 'fighting chance' and the 'fair shot' we deserve. But Truman-esque and Warren-esque don't work for Clinton because, for better or worse, we know her, specifically Democratic party goers know her, far too well.

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Clinton certainly has more experience, she is better prepared and equipped to serve -- but if history shows us anything it is this -- that is not enough to appeal to Democratic primary goers. They are rightly concerned about the future, they want to hear her apologize for the mistakes of the past (i.e. her support for the Iraq War, her cozy relationship with Wall St., her failure to address climate change, her hawkish stance on foreign policy, etc.) and provide a vision for the future (i.e. why is she running? what does she hope to achieve? is this more than just a victory lap for someone that everyone agrees is deserving of appreciation but perhaps not the presidency?).

Until they get that, Clinton will be suspect on the Democratic left. Warren is untested, she is new, she is fresh, and so far, she is not running. But like President Obama in 2007-2008, she is on the right side of the issues as far as Democratic primary voters are concerned and that matters a lot more than the early polls may suggest.