Elizabeth Warren wasn’t playing around Wednesday night.

Forget jabs. She threw roundhouse after roundhouse at her rivals at the Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas, landing some of the most devastating blows on Mike Bloomberg and setting the tone for a raucous night.

“Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another,” Warren said while standing next to said billionaire, Bloomberg.

It was her most combative debate performance yet. But it might have seemed familiar to Doug Baird, a legal scholar raised in Montgomery County, who debated Warren decades ago on the finer points of bankruptcy law.

We spoke to Baird a few months back for our deep dive into Warren’s time as a student at Rutgers Law School and a professor at University of Pennsylvania Law School. While her politics were still forming at the time, her feisty, combative side was already clear to those who scrapped with her in the legal world.

“One of the things she’s really good at in the debate and that I found very, very hard to contend with is, she’s very good at putting forth arguments that can’t be dismissed in a soundbite,” even if you thought they were wrong, said Baird, now a University of Chicago Law School professor. “If you have to back up and take a couple minutes to explain why what she said isn’t right, you’ve already lost.”

Baird said that feeling was something he “fumed about” privately while he and Warren argued in the academic world in the 1980s, at a time when she was a rising star at Penn.

Other enduring aspects of her public persona, however, were already clear, including her vigor and the spiky debate attitude she carried from years as a high school debate champion.
“A good fight is far more interesting than a host of polite compliments and careful hedgings,” Warren wrote during one clash of ideas in the 1987 University of Chicago Law Review. She now hammers rivals for being afraid to battle for big ideas, while they charge she is disdainful of those with different views.

That line came as part of dueling law review articles she and Baird wrote.

Until Wednesday, Warren had largely directed her debate fire at President Donald Trump and general “corruption" in politics and the economy, not her Democratic rivals. But with her campaign struggling, they all got a taste of the heat Baird once confronted.

We don’t know yet if Warren did enough to revive her chances of winning the nomination — she had a strong night, but Bernie Sanders remains the front-runner and took little fire. Meanwhile, she left many of the more moderate candidates with bruises that won’t soon fade, with sharp lines for Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, also.

Mostly notably, though, she eviscerated Bloomberg, the latest hope of the center-left establishment.

And that might be counted as a win for Sanders, too.