BOSTON — Marking a year since she began her campaign for president, and seeking to frame the final five-week sprint to Iowa, where much of her candidacy hinges, Senator Elizabeth Warren urged her supporters to “imagine that something better lies on the other side of the chaos and ugliness of the last three years” in a major speech on Tuesday.
Ms. Warren, who surged to the front of the Democratic field in early fall but has since receded, warned her party against “thinking small” in 2020 as she pitched her sweeping agenda. “Americans do big things,” she said forcefully. “That’s who we are.”
Speaking at the historic Old South Meeting House in Boston, where revolutionaries plotted and organized against the British in the 1770s and planted the seeds of the American Revolution, the senior Massachusetts senator repeatedly asked her supporters — and would-be supporters — to envision a new America under a President Warren.
“Today we come together to imagine,” Ms. Warren said, using variations of “imagine” roughly 50 times as she ticked off plans for providing universal health care, wiping away student loan debt, tackling climate change, addressing gender and racial inequities and curbing the power of money in politics.
She cast 2020 as “our chance to rewrite the rules of power in our country.”
“The billionaires, the corporate executives and their favorite presidential candidates have one clear goal: to convince you that everything you imagine is impossible,” she said, sharpening her contrast with Democratic rivals like former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., who have aggressively courted large contributors.
“You better believe the big donors know which candidates for president are on their side,” she added, offering something of a rebuttal to Mr. Buttigieg, who has criticized Ms. Warren for her pursuit of such donors before she began her presidential campaign. Their goal, she said, was “to convince you that reform is hopeless — to convince you that because no one can be pure, it’s pointless to try to make anything better.”
A year ago, Ms. Warren became the first major candidate to enter the 2020 primary, getting a jump on her rivals but stumbling out of the blocks. She struggled early on to raise money and to turn the page on her decision in late 2018 to take a DNA test about her claimed Native American ancestry, for which she later apologized. But by spring and summer, a drumbeat of policy proposals — “I have a plan for that” became her mantra — and her skills as a campaigner helped lift her out of the pack of candidates to emerge as one of the leading challengers to Mr. Biden, who has led in national polls all year.
Now, with voting only weeks away, Ms. Warren faces political challenges in almost every direction.
On the left, she has been unable to consolidate the party’s liberal base, with a loyal and substantial bloc remaining aligned with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. In the middle, Mr. Buttigieg has emerged as a significant threat, wresting away some of the base of more educated, white voters she had built over the summer and early fall. And among black voters — a crucial Democratic constituency — Mr. Biden’s hold has remained as durable as ever.
But Ms. Warren’s potential to win over a significant share of all those groups is why so many of her opponents see her as politically potent as the calendar turns to 2020.
Among the urgent tasks for Ms. Warren is to build support among communities of color, and in particular among black voters, and she used the biography and poetry of Phillis Wheatley, who was enslaved in the 1700s, throughout her speech on Tuesday.
“Black history — American history — has shown us the way to the America of our highest ideals,” she said. “A road map of resistance and endurance in the fight to transform the heart of our nation.”
Ms. Warren, who has vividly diagnosed the woes of America as stemming from corruption, sought an uplifting tone on Tuesday, speaking with what she called “a heart filled with optimism.”
“People tell me what’s broken, but the fear always comes lit by a hope for change,” she said, in an echo of President Barack Obama’s famous slogan. “Hope for change because they believe in America, and in each other. And I believe, too.”
But it was not all positivity before a packed house of nearly 700, including supporters and many staff members from her nearby headquarters.
Ms. Warren delivered a harsh indictment of the Republican Party under President Trump, saying, “Republicans in Congress have turned into fawning, spineless defenders of his crimes.” And she all but predicted that Mr. Trump would be acquitted in an impeachment trial in the Senate, warning that “Donald Trump will be emboldened to try to cheat his way through yet another election.”
As she does at all her rallies and town hall events, she ended by offering to take pictures with everyone in attendance.