The decline of Elizabeth Warren from a #DraftWarren progressive star in 2015 to a fading light today can be summarized in a single observation: Liz Warren never misses an opportunity to look like an opportunist.
Warren was the featured speaker at the New Hampshire Democrats’ McIntyre-Shaheen 100 Club Dinner this weekend, a key fundraiser for the state party in a key early state for every presidential contender. It’s a plum gig for any 2020 candidate, and featured both Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016.
But Sen. Warren isn’t just any contender. As a U.S .Senator from a neighboring state, one with nearly 100 percent name ID, New Hampshire is a must-win — or at the very least, must perform very well — state for her. This high-profile event is an excellent platform for Warren to get out her message of progressive populism.
But is anybody in New Hampshire listening?
This is Warren’s fourth trip to the Granite State this year. Most of the state lives in that same Boston media market she does. Her name ID is essentially 100 percent. And she’s polling in fourth place. On a good day.
The talk among political pros is that Warren’s race may be over before it starts, and they point both to the data–she is comparatively unpopular compared to her fellow 2020 Democrats — and her campaign which, to put it politely, is all over the place. In a political moment that prizes authenticity, Warren remains clumsily inauthentic, as she demonstrated with her desperate grasp of the reparations issue this week– in particular, suggesting reparations for Native Americans.
The data are easy to read: In poll after poll, Warren’s numbers have drifted downward. Last May she was the clear front-runner in the Suffolk poll. By November Warren was down to an unimpressive 11 percent in the UMass-Amherst poll of New Hampshire Democrats. In the most recent UMass Amherst poll, Warren is down to a disappointing 9 percent, and in fourth place.
More problematic is the 26 percent of Democrats and unaffiliated voters in the Granite State (which is the pool of potential primary voters) who name Warren as the one Democrat they would not vote for in the general election.
New Hampshire Democrats, like the party faithful across the country, say that a candidate’s ability to defeat Donald Trump is their top priority. The percentage of Granite State Democrats who say Warren’s the best choice to do that?
Six percent. (Former Vice President Joe Biden is at 39 percent.)
Even worse, all this data is from before Bernie Sanders entered the race and, ala Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood, started drinking her milkshake. Sanders and Warren clearly draw from the same pool of voters, as NHJournal found when we interviewed a dozen or so Sanders 2016 Granite Staters. Nearly all mentioned Warren as their likely back-up vote if Bernie sat out. But they had some other observations, too.
“I like Warren, but I’m terrified how she walks into traps,” said Chis Liquori of Portsmouth. “I think Trump could destroy her.”
Katie Talbert of Lebanon, NH is also a fan but says “I don’t know if she can overcome the sexism that’s still out there. She sort of got the ‘Hillary’ factor going. She comes across as a middle-class white female, and people love to hate that.”
It should be noted, however, that at least one other female in the field, Sen. Kamala Harris, is gaining momentum, not losing it.
“I think if Biden doesn’t get in, Kamala Harris has a chance to win here,” one Granite State Democratic insider told NHJournal “And even if he does, I think she’s going to be in the top three.”
Maybe, maybe not. What’s significant is that talking to NH Democrats, the conversation about Kamala Harris is “can she win?”, while the Warren conversation tends toward “I’m not quite ready to say yet that she can’t.”
And this is specifically a Warren problem. Jim Demers, the longtime Democratic strategist, points out that Warren has massive free media in New Hampshire because “When Warren is campaigning in any state in the country, it’s covered by the Boston media market.” So it’s not like she can’t reach voters with her message.
But what is New Hampshire seeing? As Warren’s woes over her “American Indian” scandal weigh her down, she launches more and more aggressive–some would say extreme and unrealistic– social spending policies. Her polls are sagging, so she announces a $70 billion “free” child care social program for families earning as much as $100,000. Sen. Kamala Harris announces she support reparations for slavery, and the next day Warren–who has wisely never expressed support for an idea that polls consistently show Americans overwhelmingly hate— suddenly jumps on the bandwagon.
Friday night in New Hampshire, she reveals that she’s open to extending those reparations to Native Americans.
Why would a candidate who already has an identity politics pre-existing condition embrace such a divisive issue that can only remind voters of her authenticity problem? Again the answer appears to be that she’s in trouble and she knows it.
“I think the Warren campaign has noticed the Harris momentum and is trying their best to slow it down by wrapping her up on the issues,,” says Spencer Kimball, head of Emerson College polling. “But this approach might backfire. For example, just this week when Harris came out in support of reparations for slavery to black Americans, Warren took the same position. Warren, who has ethnicity issues of her own, might inadvertently be reminding voters of her own shortcomings by coming out on this issue, but because of Harris’s early momentum she is on defense and not controlling the message”.
Democrats watching Warren campaign should keep in mind that it’s early, the voting doesn’t start for almost a year, Bill Clinton and John McCain were DOA before New Hampshire, etc. etc. But a key difference is that Clinton and McCain were able to come back by embracing their authenticity, by doubling-down on who voters already believed they were.
Is it possible to double-down on inauthenticity?