WASHINGTON -- Among her many proposals, an interviewer asked Sen. Elizabeth Warren, which three would she like to sign into law first?
Her anti-corruption plan, an end to the Senate filibuster, and a wealth tax, the Massachusetts senator responded last week to Angela Rye, the liberal activist and CNN commentator.
Notice something missing?
Warren never wanted health care to dominate her campaign. After a week in which her detailed, sweeping "Medicare for All" plan has done exactly that, she'd still prefer to focus elsewhere.
The issue threatens significant harm to her presidential ambitions. Her inability to escape it provides a clear lesson in the power that activists wield to box in candidates on issues they care about.
In 2018, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., gave clear instructions about health care to her candidates: Put Republicans on the defensive; focus on GOP efforts to wipe out protections for people with preexisting health problems; don't get drawn into a debate over Medicare for All.
That strategy worked: Democrats swept to a majority in the House, capturing 40 seats -- one of the largest electoral waves since World War II -- and health care played a major role.
That game plan remains available to the Democratic presidential candidates; the Trump administration has given them plenty of ammunition. For example, administration lawyers in July asked a federal court to declare the Affordable Care Act invalid -- protections for preexisting conditions and all -- and a decision in that case could come any day.
Instead, the candidates have largely done the opposite of what Pelosi recommended. They've occasionally attacked Trump over his efforts to take health coverage away from millions of potential voters, but they've more often gone after one another on their respective plans to expand coverage.
The path they've taken illustrates a key dynamic that shapes primary campaigns, often regardless of candidates' wishes, said Patrick J. Egan, a political scientist at New York University who studies the way parties define themselves to voters through ownership of specific issues.