Warren campaign, at crossroads in New Hampshire, makes pitch to left and center

Christopher WilsonSenior Writer
Yahoo News

Welcome to 2020 Vision, the Yahoo News column covering the presidential race. There are four days until the New Hampshire primary and 270 days until the 2020 presidential election.

DERRY, N.H. — Since launching her presidential campaign over a year ago, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has attempted to combine policy and the personal. She turned “I have a plan for that,” a catchphrase highlighting her proposals for solving everything from wealth inequality to government corruption, into a reliable applause line at rallies and a branding logo on campaign merchandise. But she also worked to counter the portrayal that she was a wonky Harvard professor, holding hours-long photo lines with supporters after events and sharing her biography, from her family’s money troubles during her childhood to a failed first marriage.

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But with the New Hampshire primary looming, a campaign that at one point last year was so ascendant it bordered on feeling inevitable is running hard just to remain viable. Warren is attempting the difficult feat of positioning herself as a “unity” candidate, able to appeal to progressives without scaring away the party’s centrists.

Still, if she was nervous Thursday night, it didn’t show in an event at Tupelo Music Hall, where she spoke and took questions from a crowd her campaign estimated to be over 500 people.

Warren stuck to the abbreviated version of her stump speech and life story, neglecting even to mention Iowa, where she finished third, behind Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg but ahead of Joe Biden. The questions from attendees ranged from how she would deal with a recalcitrant Senate and an increasingly conservative federal judiciary to the opioid crisis and homeless members of the LGBT community. She did opt out of the customary post-event photo line, citing a packed schedule and substituting her golden retriever, Bailey. She also closed with a plea to not just vote for her but join the fight of her campaign.

“I’m asking you to get in this fight with me,” Warren said, wrapping up her speech at the end of an hour. “Vote for me on Tuesday. Go to ElizabethWarren.com and pitch in five bucks. Volunteer to knock on doors, make phone calls, talk to the person in front of you in line at the grocery store. But most of all, get in this fight. This moment in history will not come our way again, and this is the moment to dream big, fight hard and win.”

Warren’s fundamentals are solid, but it’s not clear “solid” is good enough in the race at this point. She has raised money, but much less than Sanders, whose campaign announced he raised $25 million in January, more than the total from any quarter from Warren. She has more support among nonwhite voters than some of her rivals — Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar — but less than Sanders or Biden.

There are issues: She doesn’t lead in primary polling for any of the upcoming states, and her team in Nevada, which holds caucuses on Feb. 22, just suffered a number of resignations by women of color who alleged a toxic work environment in which minorities felt tokenized. (Warren said Thursday she believed the women and apologized.) Her campaign also pulled about $375,000 in ad buys from the air in South Carolina and Nevada, saying Wednesday, “I just always want to be careful about how we spend our money.”

Warren greets attendees during a campaign event in Derry, N.H., on Thursday. (Matt Rourke/AP)
Warren greets attendees during a campaign event in Derry, N.H., on Thursday. (Matt Rourke/AP)

During Thursday night’s remarks, Warren criticized President Trump but steered clear of targeting any of her fellow Democrats, while Sanders, Buttigieg and Biden have traded barbs in recent weeks. This is in line with Warren’s closing pitch, meant to position herself as a unity candidate, offering progressive policies to the left wing of the party in a package that the establishment may consider less threatening than Sanders’s brand of “democratic socialism.” Her campaign recently released an ad titled “Courage to Unite,” which shows a 2016 Hillary Clinton voter, a 2016 Sanders voter and a former registered Republican canvassing together for Warren.

Kathy Sullivan, a former chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party who has endorsed Warren, said the pitch was her biggest strength in the closing days.

“I think the message of unity is a good one because people want to win in November, and we know that in order to beat Donald Trump, Democrats have to be unified,” said Sullivan. “I think Elizabeth Warren attracts people from across the party and therefore has the ability to excite people, and no matter what ideological circle people might try to plug you into, she is the best candidate for all of us.”

Whether progressives in the party will come home to Warren is still a question. Her fall in the polls began when she seemed to back off her support for Medicare for All in October, and she angered Sanders supporters after an awkward dispute over whether the Vermont senator once told her he doubted a woman could beat Trump.

If Warren is to close the gap in New Hampshire, she will need to rely on a strong ground game, which Sullivan said could tip the scales with undecided voters finally settling on a choice.

“I think she’s got a great organization,” said Sullivan. “She’s been here for a year. She’s got tons of volunteers. It’s my understanding they’ve got 2,000 people knocking on doors this weekend and engaging in get-out-the-vote activities to get the word out. Given the number of people who are undecided at this point, that’s really helpful, because there’s a big block of people who are just now making their minds up, so it’s really helpful to have an organization and the volunteers.”

Warren leaves the Great Bay Kids’ Company in Exeter, N.H., on Thursday. (Matt Rourke/AP)
Warren leaves the Great Bay Kids’ Company in Exeter, N.H., on Thursday. (Matt Rourke/AP)

The campaign also announced that a number of high-profile surrogates would be joining the senator and her team’s canvassers for the final stretch. Sen. Ed Markey and Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Katherine Clark, Jim McGovern and Lori Trahan from neighboring Massachusetts are set to campaign over the weekend, along with Rep. Katie Porter, a freshman from California who had Warren as a professor at Harvard Law School. Also Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico, one of the first Native American women elected to Congress, whose endorsement of Warren helped her get past the controversy over her ill-begotten DNA test.

Gene Martin, the Manchester City Democrats chair, said Warren just needed to survive the next winnowing of the field and she’d be well positioned.

“I think if it comes down to her, Bernie and Mayor Pete, I think that’s going to be a huge benefit to her,” said Martin.

That is a plausible scenario, given Biden’s slippage in the polls, and setting aside former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s well-funded operation, which serves as a potential wildcard on Super Tuesday and beyond. After finishing fourth in Iowa, Biden has dropped in the polls and disappeared from New Hampshire. Buttigieg, buoyed by a top-two finish in Iowa, has climbed to second behind Sanders in a number of New Hampshire polls.

But Martin believes there’s still time for Warren to have a strong finish — even an outright victory — in the Granite State.

“You can’t take anything for granted,” he said. “2008, I think everyone thought Barack Obama would just roll through New Hampshire, and Hillary the last week closed it and she ended up winning. I think [Warren] just has to get out there and do what she’s doing. I think she’s run a fantastic campaign, and I think the pivot to the unity message is perfect.”

And over the next three days, the pressure will be on Warren’s team of volunteers and surrogates to make the final push that keeps her in the race.

Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders. (AP photos)
Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders. (AP photos)

Latest N.H. polls show Bernie on top, but race tightening

Still without an official winner in the Iowa caucuses amid the vote-counting fiasco, New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary will hopefully be the first clear result of the 2020 race. Yet recent polls out of the Granite State show the contest tightening, with Buttigieg gaining ground on Sanders, who cruised to victory over Clinton in the 2016 New Hampshire primary.

Note that the figures below do not show candidates (like Michael Bennet and Deval Patrick) who polled at 1 percent or less.

Boston Globe/Suffolk University Poll, Feb. 5-6

• Bernie Sanders 24%

• Pete Buttigieg 23%

• Elizabeth Warren 13%

• Joe Biden 11%

• Amy Klobuchar 6%

• Tulsi Gabbard 4%

• Andrew Yang 3%

• Tom Steyer 3%

Margin of error: +/- 4.4%

Emerson College Poll, Feb. 5-6

• Bernie Sanders 32%

• Pete Buttigieg 23%

• Elizabeth Warren 13%

• Joe Biden 11%

• Amy Klobuchar 9%

• Tulsi Gabbard 6%

• Tom Steyer 2%

• Andrew Yang 2%

Margin of error: +/- 4.3%

Monmouth University Poll, Feb. 3-5

• Bernie Sanders 24%

• Pete Buttigieg 20%

• Joe Biden 17%

• Elizabeth Warren 13%

• Amy Klobuchar 9%

• Tulsi Gabbard 4%

• Andrew Yang 4%

• Tom Steyer 3%

Margin of error: +/- 4.4%

[Who’s running for president? See Yahoo News’ 2020 tracker]

Bernie Sanders at a news conference in Manchester, N.H., on Thursday. (Mike Segar/Reuters)
Bernie Sanders at a news conference in Manchester, N.H., on Thursday. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Verbatim

“We’ve got enough of Iowa. I think we should move on to New Hampshire.”

— Bernie Sanders, at a town hall in Manchester, N.H., on the vote-counting controversy in the Iowa caucuses

“I would rather have a socialist in the White House than a dictator.”

— Joe Walsh, on CNN, vowing to support the Democratic nominee after dropping his unlikely bid for the GOP nomination

“The president has learned from this case.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, on CBS News, explaining her vote to acquit President Trump in his impeachment trial

“We have no reason to believe the president learned anything.”

Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., one of the Democratic impeachment managers, responding to Collins

President Trump holds up a newspaper during an event celebrating his impeachment acquittal in the East Room of the White House on Thursday. (Evan Vucci/AP)
President Trump holds up a newspaper during an event celebrating his impeachment acquittal in the East Room of the White House on Thursday. (Evan Vucci/AP)

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