While it’s not yet clear whether Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., will jump into the 2020 presidential elections, one thing is for certain: She’s going to be a key influence in the race.

A new Suffolk University poll of New Hampshire Democratic primary voters found that Warren leads the pack among possible Democratic primary hopefuls, including former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

When Warren was added to the mix of possible candidates, the senator garnered nearly 26% of the vote. Biden and Sanders trailed behind her with 20% and 13% of those polled, respectively.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
Warren played an influential role in the 2016 Democratic primary and she's likely to do so again in 2020. Bloomberg News

This is notable whether or not the Massachusetts Democrat ultimately joins the race for the White House, and in spite of the fact that the poll surveyed voters in Warren’s neighboring state.

Given her strong showing with the party’s base, Warren is likely to have considerable sway on the party when it comes to financial services, just as she did in 2016. The Democratic platform that year, for example, adopted two significant provisions championed by Warren: postal banking and a return of the Glass-Steagall Act, which would separate commercial and investment banking.

“I don't know if she runs or not, but what this poll tells me is that she's going to have a big influence on the platform of the Democratic Party in the next election,” said Edward Mills, a policy analyst at Raymond James.

Although it is likely to frustrate many in the banking industry, this means that the Democratic Party is almost certain to remain to the left on issues surrounding banking. Mills noted that Warren has been central to keeping financial services policy top of mind for politicians and voters alike more than a decade after the 2008 crisis.

“Her committee membership and her deep understanding from researching the industry is probably the thing that keeps it as more of a top issue than any other force out there,” he said.

Her influence was already on display earlier this spring with the Senate’s passage of a bill to overhaul parts of the Dodd-Frank Act. While a number of moderate Democrats backed the legislation, Warren remained solidly against it — and so did virtually every one of the party’s 2020 hopefuls, including Sens. Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. That was far from a coincidence. Warren’s opposition made it politically untenable for a Democratic presidential hopeful to defect on the bill. That effect is likely to increase as the race for 2020 heats up.

As a vigorous critic of some of the largest banks and an opponent of the Trump administration’s plans to deregulate the industry, Warren has remained an outspoken voice on the progressive left during the first two years of President Trump’s term. Her strong polling suggests that her populist tone continues to play well with many Democratic voters. Her pointed opposition to the regulatory relief legislation may have irritated some of her more centrist colleagues in the Senate, but it underscored the threat she poses given her considerable following on financial policy matters. Moderate Democrats have been firm with House leaders that they will not take another tough vote on the bill if the lower chamber tries to make additional changes to the bill.

Earlier jockeying on the left comes even as the race for the White House shapes up to be a fractious one. Republican voters are rallying around the president ahead of 2020, according to the Suffolk poll — two-thirds of those surveyed said they would vote for Trump again as the party’s nominee.

For her part, Warren has said she has no plans to make a presidential bid and that she intends to serve a full term in the Senate if she is re-elected this fall. A spokeswoman for Warren said that the senator “is taking nothing for granted and is focused on her re-election campaign.”

The bad news for banks is that Warren doesn’t have to run to be a central figure in the next fight for the White House.

Bankshot is American Banker’s column for real-time analysis of today's news.

Victoria Finkle

Victoria Finkle

Victoria Finkle is deputy Washington bureau chief and editor of American Banker's op-ed blog, BankThink.

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