Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren received a disappointingly small share of the votes in New Hampshire on Tuesday, marking a major slide for a Massachusetts senator who mere months ago topped polls in her neighboring state.
With more than three-quarters of precincts reporting, Warren was in fourth place after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Though she was ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden, who made a face-saving exit from the state before the results came in, she did not stand to receive any delegates.
Warren conceded defeat in the race in remarks to supporters in Manchester, New Hampshire.
“Results are still coming in from across the state, but right now it is clear that Sen. Sanders and Mayor Buttigieg had strong nights,” she said. “And I also want to congratulate my friend and colleague Amy Klobuchar for showing just how wrong the pundits can be when they count a woman out.”
Warren’s campaign tried to downplay expectations ahead of the results on Tuesday night. Warren campaign manager Roger Lau circulated a lengthy memo making the case that she has a plan to win that reflects the fact that 55 states and territories worth 98% of pledged delegates are still up for grabs after New Hampshire. She “is the consensus choice of the widest coalition of Democrats in every corner of the country,” he wrote.
Warren and allied progressive groups, like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and the Working Families Party, which endorsed Warren during her ascent in September, reiterated that message Tuesday night.
“Our campaign is best positioned to beat Donald Trump in November ― because we can unite our party,” she said.
She even previewed a sharper effort to distinguish herself from rivals Sanders and Buttigieg, whose bitter squabbling she predicted would make it harder for Democrats to unify in November.
“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,” she said.
New Hampshire may indeed have some uniquely inhospitable qualities for Warren. The state, which holds open primaries, has a large share of independent voters, among whom Sanders and other contenders are generally more popular. And poll watchers increasingly believe that candidates reap limited benefits from regional proximity.
But following a months-long slide in fundraising and polling, and a third-place showing in the Iowa caucuses, Warren is certain to face real doubts about her ability to clinch the nomination.
Even some of the left-wing groups that have stayed neutral in a contest that includes both Warren and Sanders, began sounding more favorable to Sanders on Tuesday night. Democracy for America dubbed Sanders the race’s “clear frontrunner.” Justice Democrats called Sanders’s win a “major victory for the progressive movement,” predicting that he is “likely” to be the Democratic nominee. Neither unaligned group mentioned Warren.
Mike Mikus, a Pittsburgh-based Democratic campaign strategist not aligned with any candidate, said that, fairly or not, Warren’s dismal showing in a state so close to her own is a particularly sharp blow to her prospects. He likened it to the hypothetical effect of Joe Biden, a former senator from Delaware, getting wiped out in Pennsylvania.
“The fact that she didn’t just lose New Hampshire, but she did so poorly, all but ends her campaign,” he said. ”In reality, there’s still plenty of time to turn it around, but the perception kills your fundraising.”
It is difficult to overstate how far Warren’s fortunes have fallen in New Hampshire. At her peak in mid-October, Warren led the field in the Granite State with the support of 28% of likely primary voters, according to the Real Clear Politics average of public polls. By this week, her standing had dropped to just below Klobuchar, who has had far less success garnering national attention and campaign resources.
Warren’s momentum in New Hampshire over the summer and early fall was evident in the sizes of the crowds that flocked to see her ― she drew an estimated 800 people to a suburban backyard in Hampton Falls over Labor Day weekend ― and headlines raving about her prospects. She was “energizing” New Hampshire Democrats, “surging” past Biden in the polls, and “vying” with Sanders for “supremacy” in their shared neighboring state.
But Warren’s decline in New Hampshire mirrored a nationwide decline in the polls that began after she struggled to address questions about her “Medicare for All” plan.
As Warren began to lead in the polls in September and October, she faced increasing scrutiny from the media, which pressed her to explain whether her embrace of Sanders’s Medicare for All bill, including support for the middle-class tax increases that the Vermont senator had admitted he’s backing. Buttigieg, who has championed a public health insurance option he calls “Medicare for All Who Want It,” joined the chorus, demanding details of her funding plan during the mid-October debate. “Your signature is to have a plan for everything, except this,” he said.
Caving to the pressure, Warren ended up releasing a plan in early November with a complex array of financing options that held middle-class taxpayers harmless but still included the most controversial element of Sanders’s plan: forcing people with private coverage onto a single federal plan. Then a few weeks later, she revealed that she would be proposing the bill in two stages, moving the transition away from private coverage into a separate bill that she promised to introduce by her third year in office.
Warren’s effort to split the difference between left and center rankled some progressives while apparently winning her few new moderate supporters, according to Mikus.
Worse still for Warren, Sanders began to regain momentum after his October heart attack, picking up the endorsement of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and a string of progressive elected officials and groups that Warren had also courted.
Warren’s problems grew after Iowans headed to their caucus sites on Feb. 3 as her rivals either outperformed her or exceeded expectations in ways that she did not.
Buttigieg’s strong showing in Iowa gave him a major polling bump in New Hampshire.
Klobuchar fared well enough in Iowa ― albeit behind Biden ― for Granite State voters to give her a second look. And the Minnesota senator came out swinging in the Democratic debate on Friday, deriding Buttigieg as an untested “newcomer.”
Irene Lin, a Democratic strategist running progressive Andru Volinsky’s bid for New Hampshire governor, had been leaning toward voting for Warren. But she ended up casting her ballot for Sanders on Tuesday after coming away impressed with his outreach to Latinos and other communities of color in Iowa.
Lin, who also specializes in progressive agricultural and economic policy, faulted Warren for failing to more clearly distinguish herself from Biden on signature issues like bankruptcy reform and for muddling her populist message with highfalutin language.
“‘Big structural change’ ― nobody talks like that in Real America,” Lin said. “She should have said she is for Main Street over Wall Street.”