When 12 Democrat presidential hopefuls met in Ohio for the second debate on October 15th, there was only one real question that needed answering, according to AP. And Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Senator who is becoming one of the front-runners in the race for the Democratic nomination, refused to answer it.
The question was whether middle-class Americans would pay higher taxes under her proposed "Medicare for All" plan. Her more moderate colleagues in the debate seized on her lack of clarity, depicting her as unrealistic and vague.
How Warren handles this criticism will be a central test of whether she can maintain her standing as a front-runner for the Democratic ticket.
The tax question was one of nearly half a dozen issues on which Warren found herself defending the broad agenda she has laid out to reshape the American economy and rebalance the nation's wealth. Gun control and the recent hot topic of impeachment also figured in the spirited debate.
While Warren has now emerged into the upper tier of candidates along with former Vice President Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders, her liberal, government-funded policies have become subject to added scrutiny. Some commentators are concerned about whether her views are out of the mainstream and would risk Democrats' chances in the 2020 election against President Donald Trump.
Warren's more moderate Democratic rivals sought to make that case aggressively in Tuesday's debate in Ohio.
Beto O'Rourke suggested she was too focused on bringing people down. New York businessman Andrew Yang said her proposed wealth tax has failed whenever it was applied across Europe. Joe Biden said she was being vague on the cost of her plans to revamp the healthcare system.
It was her refusal to clarify how she would pay for her government overhaul of health care that prompted the most sustained criticism from a range of candidates.
Minnesota Senator Klobuchar said Warren's vagueness was more apparent because Bernie Sanders — whose Medicare for All bill Warren supports — has conceded that middle-class taxes would rise, although in his view the increases would be offset by lower health care costs.
"At least Bernie's being honest here," Klobuchar said. "I'm sorry, Elizabeth, but you have not said that. We owe it to the American people."
"Costs will go down," Warren kept on insisting.
Republicans were quick to seize on her repeated sidestepping.
"Elizabeth Warren is lying. Period," Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tweeted. "Taxes would go up on EVERYONE to fund this socialist government takeover of health care. Bernie admits it. Why can't she?"
Above the debate’s venue in Westerville, Ohio, Trump's campaign flew a banner that read, "Socialism destroys Ohio jobs. Vote Trump."
The pressure now mounting on Warren from within her own party reflects a broader challenge for the Democrats as they manage the difficult process of unifying behind a single candidate to take on Trump next year. Many Democratic voters applaud Warren’s calls for big, bold ideas. However, they also have a nagging fear that she could be too liberal to attract the broad coalition required to secure Trump’s exit from the White House.