It’s still very early days in the Democratic primary season, with only a handful of delegates selected, but there’s already a narrative emerging in mainstream coverage. Pete and Bernie, buoyed by their good results in Iowa, are dueling it out in New Hampshire. Joe took a gut punch but is trying to fight back. And if it’s close in New Hampshire, that opens up more of an opportunity for Mike and his unlimited budget.
But while the punditry is currently focusing on who will win in the next contest in a small mostly-white state … they’re missing the real story.
George Stephanopoulos: No one has ever gotten the nomination if they don’t crack the top two in Iowa or New Hampshire.
Elizabeth Warren: Look, the way I see this is it’s going to be a long campaign … we’ve built a campaign to go the distance.
— ABC’s This Week February 9, 2020
Elizabeth’s Warren plan to win the nomination is by positioning herself as the candidate who can appeal to the different factions within a divided party. And her strategy’s working:
- Iowa’s results (Biden’s fourth-place finish, Sanders down almost 50% from his 2016 numbers), combined with the Sanders’ campaigns ongoing attacks on other candidates and supporters, mean that it’s unlikely that anybody will get a majority of pledged delegates — so we’re on a path to a contested convention
- Warren is the only candidate in the race who backs key progressive policies but hasn’t declared all-out war on the party apparatus and the moderates and centrists — and her campaign and supporters have generally stayed away from nasty attacks on other candidates or their supporters
- So at the convention, delegates may well wind up having to choose between alienating moderates by picking Sanders, alienating progressives by picking Bloomberg or another moderate … or choosing Warren.
Of course, it’s far from a sure thing. The Sanders campaign has a lot of great organizers (and youth support is also overlooked by pundits), so it’s certainly possible that their momentum will continue to build enough to wrap things up before the convention. The impact of Bloomberg’s unprecedented spending is very hard to predict. And the media’s bias against women candidates, and the big advantage so many of the guys have in fundraising, are certainly additional challenges for Warren.
Nevertheless, she’s persisting. And she’s also got a lot of advantages that aren’t getting as much attention as they should. Rachel Happe has some great perspectives on the overall approach in Elizabeth Warren is Winning — If You Understand her Strategy:
It’s what I think of as a community or collaborative strategy that is underpinned not by a traditional mindset driven by zero-sum, winner-take-all, competitive, and scarcity thinking but by win-win-win, abundance, and potential mindset.
And here’s some specific examples:
- As other candidates drop out, Warren’s likely to continue to attract more top-tier staffers (like Maya Rupert and Natalie Montelongo, who recently joined from the Castro campaign) and volunteers.
- The intersectional grassroots organizing her campaign is doing with groups like Black Womxn For and AAPIs with Warren — and her strong support in the disability community — are big strengths going forward.
- Her supporters may not be as raucous as Bernie’s, but we’re just as motivated and passionate. It’s true online as well; on Twitter and Facebook, Warren supporters (and now the Castro supporters joining up) are working together effectively in ways that leverage our strengths and networks.
So it’ll be interesting to see how things play out. We’ll start to know a lot more after Super Tuesday but the convention’s a loooong way away. Still, Warren’s plan is clear … and things certainly seem to be going in the direction she’s hoping for.
Everyone thinks they know what fights are unwinnable, until we get in the fight, persist — and win. That’s what I’m going to do.
Update, February 12:
The day after I wrote this (but before the New Hampshire results were released), Warren campaign manager Roger Lau’s latest strategy memo for Team Warren goes into more detail on what the campaign’s expectations for Super Tuesday.
Our internal projections show us at or above the 15% threshold in 108 of those districts, or nearly two-thirds of the Super Tuesday map. If you broaden that to districts where we’re within reach of the threshold (or between 12–15%), we’re playing in 149 districts, or 88% of the map.
Warren is poised to finish in the top two in over half of Super Tuesday states (eight of 14), in the top three in all of them, and is on pace to pick up at-large statewide delegates in all but one.
He also argues that only three candidates at or above the 15% threshold in more than half of the districts on Super Tuesday: Warren, Biden and Sanders.
In that three-way race, Elizabeth Warren is the candidate with the highest potential ceiling of support and the one best positioned to unite the party and lead the Democratic ticket to defeat Donald Trump.
In her speech after the New Hampshire primary, Warren said
The fight between factions in our party has taken a sharp turn in recent weeks, with ads mocking other candidates and with supporters of some candidates shouting curses at other Democratic candidates …. These harsh tactics might work if you are willing to burn down the rest of the party in order to be the last man standing…. But if we’re going to beat Donald Trump in November, we are going to need huge turnout within our party, and to get that turnout, we will need a nominee that the broadest coalition of our party feels like they can get behind. We cannot afford to fall into factions. We can’t afford to squander our collective power. We win when we come together.
And Elisa Camahort Page has a deep dive into Sanders voter retention numbers. Her conclusion: “Bernie Sanders won New Hampshire outright and won the popular vote in Iowa, and yet if I were on his team, I would have concerns about the level of dilution of his support from ’16, given his name recognition, ideological differentiation, and war chest.” As I’ve said on several Facebook comments, at some point the media may well start focusing on “why has Bernie lost so much support from 2016?”
Image credit: From ABC’s This Week, via Elizabeth Warren on Twitter.