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Elizabeth Warren isn’t done yet

She’s banking on a strong showing on Super Tuesday — and could well get it.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren greets supporters outside of a polling location in Manchester, New Hampshire on February 11, 2020.
Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

There’s no way around it: New Hampshire was a tough loss for Sen. Elizabeth Warren. The state is often referred to as her backyard, and she once notably led the polls there. Her fourth-place finish on Tuesday wasn’t just behind the other top candidates; it was far behind them. Plus, the recent loss followed a solid but not stellar finish in Iowa.

That said, it’s worth noting that New Hampshire marks just the start of the primary — and far from the end for her campaign. Because of her strong organizing and expansive presence in Nevada, Warren is poised for a decent showing in the state and could well be among a handful of leading candidates in delegate-rich California on Super Tuesday.

Simply put, her campaign still has plenty of potential despite the recent losses.

Warren laid out this dynamic in her New Hampshire remarks on Tuesday night: “We might be headed for another one of those long primary fights that last for months. We are two states in,” she said. “We still have 98 percent of our delegates for our nomination up for grabs.”

Her point alludes to a longstanding quirk of the primary calendar in which Iowa and New Hampshire, two early states, serve to both winnow the field and grant specific candidates more momentum. The paradigm has endured even though they’re deeply unrepresentative of the country’s diversity and respectively comprise less than 1 percent of the total national delegate haul.

Although it is true that just one Democratic candidate in recent memory has won the nomination without first winning Iowa or New Hampshire (Bill Clinton in 1992), the size of the current field — and the disparate strengths that the candidates possess — brings more uncertainty than usual to the race this cycle.

Warren is in a prime position to capitalize on this dynamic, though she has some significant hurdles to overcome. She’s missed out on the initial momentum boost that strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire have provided other top candidates. And she’s seen middling national polling among African American and Latino voters, two groups that are central to strong performances in Nevada and South Carolina.

Still, RealClearPolitics’ state polling averages suggest she could turn in steady results in both places, likely surpassing some of the other frontrunners including former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar — both of whom have polled poorly with voters of color. Of course, the status of both states’ elections remain quite fluid: The polling of Nevada, in particular, hasn’t been updated since early January.

It is important for Warren to do well in these states to project strength going into Super Tuesday, a slew of races in which more than 1,300 delegates will be awarded. Warren’s campaign has long counted on a successful Super Tuesday showing, and thanks to her national profile, infrastructure, and pitch as a “unity” candidate, she’s in a good position to capture a large number of the day’s delegates. In particular, California — with its hundreds of delegates — presents a huge opportunity for her campaign.

“Americans in every part of the country are going to make their voices heard,” Warren emphasized Tuesday.

Warren has not been the strongest candidate with voters of color, a potential stumbling block

Unlike former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s also experienced serious struggles in both Iowa and New Hampshire, Warren doesn’t have quite as obvious a base of support in the upcoming states of Nevada and South Carolina. And this is certainly an obstacle she continues to face.

In Nevada, RealClearPolitics’ polling average has her in third at 11.5 percent, behind Sanders at 17.5 percent and Biden at 21 percent. Similarly, in South Carolina, the RCP average has her at 9.5 percent while Sanders is at 17 percent, billionaire activist Tom Steyer is at 18.5 percent, and Biden is at 31 percent.

Nationally, Warren appears to be in a similar position when it comes to support from Latino and African American voters, specifically — Morning Consult’s national poll shows Warren coming in after Sanders, Biden, and former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Supporters of Sen. Elizabeth Warren listen to her speak at a rally in Concord, New Hampshire, on February 9, 2020.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Even so, Nevada offers an opening for Warren, as does South Carolina. While she may be trailing Biden and Sanders, polling has shown her consistently beating Klobuchar and Buttigieg in both states — admittedly, a situation that could change, thanks to the two candidates’ second- and third-place finishes in New Hampshire. Solid returns for Warren in the two states would go a long way to restoring her standing as a top-tier candidate.

In Nevada, in particular, Warren has been known for an expansive organizing effort that’s established a clear presence and now includes more than 50 staffers, according to the Daily Beast. It’s been touted as one of the earliest operations to establish a presence in a state.

Warren’s candidacy has also garnered praise from former Senate majority leader and Nevada kingmaker Harry Reid, who personally asked her to get into the 2020 race in the first place. (Reid has not officially endorsed anyone, however.)

Her strength with organized labor gives Warren a strong edge alongside Sanders as well. She’s picked up endorsements from a series of labor unions including an affiliate of Unite Here.

Warren’s Nevada operation is not without its challenges, however. Last week, six women of color announced they were leaving Warren’s Nevada team, saying they felt they were treated as tokens in the organization. According to a Politico report, the women expressed concerns about the campaign’s culture and Warren’s less frequent visits to the state compared to other early states. (A Nevada Independent tracker finds Warren tied with Sanders and Klobuchar for the second most visits.) Warren has said she is dedicated to addressing these concerns.

In South Carolina, she has made inroads, but she’s been dinged there for putting in less face time on the ground. According to a Post and Courier tracker, she’s made significantly fewer visits to the state than her competitors, including Sanders. Her campaign notes that she has more than 40 staffers and 11 offices in the state.

Warren’s campaign manager Roger Lau emphasized that both states were major priorities in a memo outlining primary strategy on Tuesday.

“After today, the primary race moves to two of the most diverse contests in the country: Nevada and South Carolina. Through today, our organization is closing in on nearly a million contacts with voters in each state,” he wrote.

Whether Warren will be able to capitalize on the groundwork she’s laid will become clearer in about two weeks, when the caucuses take place. As Klobuchar’s success in New Hampshire demonstrated, a stronger-than-expected performance could keep Warren top of mind for voters headed to the polls on Super Tuesday — a day full of races that could reinvigorate her candidacy.

California — and Super Tuesday — could mean a massive delegate haul

On March 3, the delegate haul on Super Tuesday will be massive — 33 percent of pledged delegates will be on offer — and securing as much of that total as she can will be pivotal for Warren’s campaign.

Based on the current polls, Warren is in a strong position to do well in California, if she can keep up her campaign’s momentum and rally after the losses in Iowa and New Hampshire. The RCP average has her at 20 percent in the state, while Biden is at 21 percent and Sanders is at 26 percent. Buttigieg, Bloomberg, and Klobuchar remain a ways behind them as of the end of January. As is the case with Nevada, however, recent events could well have changed opinions in the state, though those effects are not yet clear due to the lack of new polls.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren waves to the crowd after speaking during a town hall meeting in Los Angeles on August 21, 2019.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Given the more than 450 delegates California has, if Warren can turn in a top showing, she’ll have secured a strong foundation to continue building on as the primary continues. The state will distribute delegates proportionally, so any candidate who hits the 15 percent threshold in the state or in individual congressional districts will be viable for national delegates. Texas is another delegate-rich state where Warren has been polling in the top three.

Overall, her campaign has noted she’s set to hit the 15 percent threshold to net delegates in two-thirds of the districts that will vote across 14 states on Super Tuesday.

This influx of delegates could be enormous — and will be critical. “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,” Lau wrote Tuesday.

It’s clear that Warren faces some immediate challenges: For one, she needs to deliver a notable finish in Nevada and ensure that voters stay excited about her campaign. Super Tuesday could set her up to be competitive long-term, if she can sustain her support until that point.

As she has noted, the race is only just beginning.