MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Last winter, Sen. Elizabeth Warren wowed Tom Courtney by cold-calling the former Iowa state senator and talking for a half-hour. After a campaign event in his hometown of Burlington, she sweet-talked his 8-year-old great-granddaughter. Warren impressed him as she built an imposing political organization across Iowa.
Now he's not so sure about her. The Massachusetts senator has suffered from weeks of attacks by rivals, and Courtney is coming back to an issue Warren has struggled to put to rest: electability.
"I don't know if she can beat Trump," said Courtney, who is the Des Moines County Democratic co-chair and has not endorsed any candidate.
Having seen her high-flying political balloon lose air in recent months, Warren is now trying to regain altitude with voters like Courtney, by stepping up her criticism of Democratic rivals and sharpening the economic message that lifted her into the top tier of 2020 presidential candidates last summer.
With a speech in New Hampshire on Thursday and a three-day campaign swing through southeastern Iowa beginning Saturday, Warren is trying to hone her closing argument to voters, connecting her populist economic agenda and her crusade against corruption.
"Our problem isn't big government," she said in an hourlong, teleprompter-guided speech at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College. "It's a government that's been captured by the rich and the powerful."
In a notable shift away from her mostly positive campaign of the last year, the speech was riddled with not-so-veiled criticism of her centrist Democratic rivals, especially former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. She cast both as falling short in their commitment to change. Mostly spared from barbs was her progressive rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
"No other candidate has put out anything close to my sweeping plan to root out Washington corruption," she said. She chided Biden -- although not by name -- for once telling a group of donors that "nothing would fundamentally change" if he becomes president and for having the "naive hope" that Republicans would be easier to work with after President Donald Trump leaves office.
Warren, who has sparred with Buttigieg over campaign finance transparency, in her speech suggested that he "brags" about his big-donor network and "offers them regular phone calls and special access."
Buttigieg's campaign responded with a statement that 98% of its donations were under $200. Spokeswoman Lis Smith punched back, saying, "Sen. Warren's idea of how to defeat Donald Trump is to tell people who don't support her that they are unwelcome in the fight and that those who disagree with her belong in the other party."