A few months ago, Elizabeth Warren was at the top of polls for the Democratic presidential nomination, building support with her ready answer to seemingly all problems: “I have a plan for that.”
The wonkish professor turned senator now faces increasingly daunting odds after she placed fourth Tuesday in the New Hampshire primary, trailing the top tier of candidates by more than 10 percentage points.
Despite representing next-door Massachusetts and investing heavily in New Hampshire, Warren was clobbered in a race led by leftist firebrand Bernie Sanders – who is also from a neighboring state, Vermont – and centrist former mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Ominously for the proudly progressive Warren, Sanders captured the left in New Hampshire with Warren trailing at number four even among self-identified liberals, according to NBC exit poll data.
Unlike former vice president Joe Biden, who is betting everything on winning the February 29 primary in South Carolina thanks to support from African-Americans, Warren has no obvious firewall after losing in New England.
And voters eager for a woman to challenge President Donald Trump in November also have Amy Klobuchar, the moderate Minnesota senator who boasts of her bipartisanship and finished third in New Hampshire.
A recent Pew poll found Sanders with a commanding advantage among younger voters, although Warren led with voters who hold post-graduate degrees.
FiveThirtyEight, the forecasting blog closely watched by political junkies, on Wednesday gave Warren a one-in-30 chance of securing the nomination, with Sanders tied at the top at a one-in-three chance.
In those odds calculations, though, Sanders is running even with a scenario in which no one wins a majority and Democrats have to horse-trade to choose a candidate.
Third in delegates
Warren still has the third largest haul of delegates that will determine the nominee, behind Buttigieg and Sanders.
“We might be headed for another one of those long primary fights that last for months,” Warren said as she left New Hampshire. “We are two states in, with 55 states and territories to go.”
Her campaign manager, Roger Lau, noted that 98 percent of delegates remained up for grabs and said he expected greater scrutiny of Sanders and Buttigieg.
Lau predicted that Warren would finish in the top two in eight of the 14 states that vote on Super Tuesday, the coast-to-coast March 3 contest that will determine more than one-third of delegates.
“Debates and unexpected results have an outsize impact on the race, and will likely keep it volatile and unpredictable through Super Tuesday,” he wrote in a publicly released memo.
Primary campaigns often have ebbs and flows. Bill Clinton did not win the first three contests in 1992 before securing the Democratic nomination and the presidency.
But while Klobuchar won media coverage by beating forecasts, Warren had led nationwide polls in October only to place third in the February 3 Iowa caucus and suffer a rout in New Hampshire.
“Expectations play a large part,” said Amy Dacey, the former chief executive officer of the Democratic National Committee.
Warren’s support began to wane in November after she released a “Medicare for All” plan that aims at providing health coverage to millions of uninsured Americans and would eventually end private insurance.
“She has very detailed plans and shared with the electorate how she plans to govern, which I think for me personally is a good thing to share. But it also gave an opportunity for her opponents” to attack, said Dacey, executive director of the Sine Institute of Policy and Politics at American University.
Medicare-for-All had long been the signature proposal of Sanders, while Buttigieg and Klobuchar have drawn a contrast by calling for the preservation of private insurance while creating a publicly funded option.
Mockery from Trump
Warren has triggered particular venom from Trump.
Relishing her New Hampshire showing, Trump tweeted that Warren was on her way out and should go have a “nice cold beer” with her husband.
For some Warren supporters, her early campaign woes – and concern over her “electability” – have revealed persistent sexism in the political debate, nearly four years after Hillary Clinton’s surprise defeat by Trump.
Warren herself hailed Klobuchar’s performance in New Hampshire as “showing just how wrong the pundits can be when they count a woman out.”
Warren has tried to break through by stressing her personal story of rising from poverty in Oklahoma to becoming a bankruptcy expert at Harvard Law School and founding a government agency to protect consumers.
A former Republican, she waited tables as a child and her mother handled catalog orders for Sears after Warren’s father suffered a heart attack.
“There’s no one in the field better at using his/her life story to build the case for his/her candidacy,” Dave Wasserman of the non-partisan Cook Political Report wrote on Twitter. “She does it superbly well.”
“But she’s also shown the least willingness/ability to switch up tactics when things aren’t going well.”