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Elizabeth Warren stays on message as her odds dwindle in New Hampshire

During a Q&A at a town hall in Lebanon, New Hampshire, a voter asked Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) if she ever whispers to her dog Bailey, "Who is going to be my Mike Pence? Who is gonna look at me with adoring eyes?" Her response leads to cheers.

Posted: Feb 10, 2020 8:50 PM
Updated: Feb 10, 2020 8:50 PM

Elizabeth Warren's campaign settled on a message -- and she isn't changing it now, even as her path to the nomination begins to look narrower.

In the run-up to the Iowa caucuses, the Massachusetts senator began to frame herself as the one candidate in a fractious field with the credentials to unite the Democratic Party ahead of a general election showdown with President Donald Trump. But Warren finished a disappointing third, despite having what many regarded as the best ground game in the state, and is now staring down another potential finish outside the top two in New Hampshire.

But as she bolts around the state, Warren has continued to tie her "unity" pitch, along with a consistent assertion that the women in the race are the party's best bets, into the anti-corruption message that has defined her now more than 13-month-old campaign. Unlike her rivals, Warren has not thrown more than a glancing blow at the other candidates, as she and her team insist their organization is in it for the long haul -- and confident of their prospects as the campaign moves into more diverse states.

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"We have one job in November: beat Donald Trump," she said at her event in Lebanon on Sunday night. "I was thinking about this and I was thinking about unwinnable fights, because I think they tell us a lot about ourselves, who we are, and the kind of country that we want to have ... Well they're only unwinnable if you don't get in the fight and fight it."

She went on to tell the story about how she wanted to be a teacher and how her mother, echoing the conventional wisdom of a bygone generation, tried to manage her expectations.

"You have to remember, I grew up in an America that wasn't telling little girls they could run for president, it was telling little girls, 'get married and find a nice man to take care of you,'" Warren said. "So the whole time I was growing up, I would talk about how I was going to be a teacher and my mother would talk about, she'll outgrow it."

She also recalled her triumph in another "unwinnable fight" -- her 2012 campaign against incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts.

"I started out down 19 points, and I had never run for anything before. But every time I got knocked down, I got back up," Warren said. "And I got knocked down again and I got back up. Even on Election Day, people were saying, too close to call, not sure if we're going to do this. I beat him by seven and a half points, there's another unwinnable fight."

New Hampshire and beyond

But if Warren is going to get back up in the 2020 Democratic primary, New Hampshire seems unlikely to give her a hand.

In CNN's latest poll of the state, conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, Warren stands at 10% -- 19 percentage points off the leader, Sen. Bernie Sanders (29%), and about even with former Vice President Joe Biden (11%), whose own campaign is facing an existential crisis ahead of Nevada and South Carolina.

Warren's fundraising, too, has also shown recent signs of flagging. In the final quarter of 2019, Warren announced raising $21.2 million in the final quarter of 2019, falling about $3 million short of what she had raised in the prior quarter, when she was in the middle of a summer surge. And last week, it took five days for her campaign to raise $2 million, per an email to supporters. Comparably, Sen. Amy Klobuchar took in $3 million over a two-day period, following a lauded debate performance. Sanders and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg have been reporting massive hauls that could allow them to comfortably compete deep into the primary calendar.

As she attempts to revive the momentum she enjoyed during a buoyant summer, that put her in the top tier of hopefuls last fall, Warren has kept a packed schedule in New Hampshire, with more events than she did in the days before the Iowa caucus, when she was locked down in Washington for Trump's impeachment trial, with a late flurry of unscheduled stops and town halls.

She also received a late joint endorsement from the grassroots veterans organization Common Defense on Monday, which is also backing Sanders.

"Elizabeth Warren grew up in the same type of working class family that many veterans did," US Air Force veteran Kathryn Smith, a Common Defense organizer, told CNN. "We also trust Elizabeth, as commander-in-chief, will end the forever wars in a responsible and expedient manner ... As veterans, our children shouldn't have to fight the wars we fought."

Despite the headwinds facing her campaign, Warren has retained the support of many progressive groups. Others, like Justice Democrats, have so far declined to issue an endorsement, a quiet affirmation that her strong standing within progressive circles remains intact.

Asked recently if she was changing her strategy, post-Iowa, following reports she had canceled ad buys in Nevada and South Carolina, Warren said the reasoning was more mundane.

"It's about the fact that we completely finance our campaign through grassroots, and I just always want to be careful about how we spend our money," she told reporters last week.

Campaign downplays early state out comes

The campaign might be sagging, but it hasn't been caught by surprise. In a memo released to the press shortly before the caucuses, Warren's campaign manager, Roger Lau, touted her nationwide organization and promised to leave troops behind in states, like Iowa, they believe could come into play this fall.

He also warned supporters, 10 days out from the first round of voting, that those investments might not pay off in the early state contests.

"We expect this to be a long nomination fight and have built our campaign to sustain well past Super Tuesday (in March) and stay resilient no matter what breathless media narratives come when voting begins," Lau wrote.

But the narrative around Warren, on the eve of New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary, has been less "breathless" than muted. The moderate candidates have sucked up most of the oxygen, with Biden attacking Buttigieg, who has shifted his focus to the former vice president, while Klobuchar has taken aim at both. Warren made wave with her criticism of Buttigieg's handling of race relations in South Bend during Friday night's debate, but her strong showing didn't set off a shift in the polls. Instead, the progressive most likely to profit off the moderate infighting appears to be Sanders.

Warren's most vocal organized backers, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, are also being careful to manage expectations -- and pointing to the contests that follow New Hampshire.

"I'm actually looking more at South Carolina and Nevada," PCCC co-founder Adam Green said on Sunday night. "As other candidates beat each other up and Biden collapses before South Carolina, Warren will be in a prime position to pick up support going into the next couple of states."

Warren has woven distinct and robust policies targeted at the African-American community and women of color into her tapestry of "plans." As the contests shift away from mostly white Iowa and New Hampshire her supporters are hoping those efforts will sway an electorate that has not yet coalesced around any one candidate.

While it's unclear right now where Warren stands in South Carolina and Nevada -- most of the polling has focused in Iowa and New Hampshire -- her campaign has invested in the final two early contests. It has 10 offices in South Carolina and eight in Nevada, as well as a significant ground game in both states. Warren has already begun shifting to do local press in Nevada, with a radio interview with KCEP Monday morning.

"We're expecting more moments like last year's She The People forum (last April in Houston), when Warren was the only candidate to earn a standing ovation from women of color in the crowd," Green said. "As long as we are strong enough coming out of New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina present good opportunities for Warren."

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