MANCHESTER, N.H. — Elizabeth Warren’s Oval Office aspirations are on the line in New Hampshire, where another middling performance after Iowa could deal a significant blow to her campaign’s momentum and her chances of winning the Democratic nomination.
“She has to win,” said veteran pollster John Zogby. “If she can’t do well in her next-door state that in itself could be a fatal blow.”
More than halfway through the weeklong sprint to Tuesday’s first-in-the-nation primary, Warren’s campaign is showing signs of trouble.
The Massachusetts senator landed in the Granite State Tuesday claiming she was locked in a “tight, three-way race” with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg in Iowa.
But as the results trickled in from the chaotic caucus, Warren ended up trailing eight points behind Sanders and Buttigieg. Mentions of the Hawkeye State disappeared from her stump speech. Her campaign pulled ad buys in Nevada and South Carolina to conserve funds, and sent out an email saying Warren was being outspent on New Hampshire’s airwaves. A new reality appeared to be setting in.
“There are a lot of folks who are going to talk about what’s not winnable, what can’t be done, and definitely about who can’t do it,” Warren told supporters during a canvass launch Saturday at Manchester Community College. “They’re going to talk about it right up until we get in that fight, we persist and we win.”
Strategists, pollsters and voters view Warren’s situation in the Granite State as a bit more dire.
“She must come in first or second. If she comes in third, her campaign is over,” said Republican strategist Ryan Williams, a former Mitt Romney aide. “If you can’t come in first or second being the neighboring state senators from Massachusetts in New Hampshire, your argument is shot.”
Romney was “supposed to win New Hampshire” in 2008, Williams continued. “We came in second after having led in the polls for many months. It just knocked the wind out of our sails.”
Warren’s campaign is working hard to stem the receding tide of momentum by flooding the state with canvassers and surrogates this weekend — putting her much-lauded ground game, which fell short in Iowa, up to its biggest test yet. Outwardly, her team is casting its focus ahead to Super Tuesday, playing up her organizing strength across the country.
But Warren seems headed for another third-place finish in the Granite State, pollsters say. As Buttigieg rises and Sanders holds steady, Warren has slid to a distant fourth place in post-caucus polls here, according to her Real Clear Politics average. She was a non-factor in Friday’s debate, where a breakout moment could have given her a boost.
It’s quite the reversal from last summer, when the Massachusetts senator’s ascendant campaign looked for a time like the one to beat. Five months after she put on a show of force at the New Hampshire State Democratic Convention, her supporters beating their thunder sticks into a deafening frenzy that stole the night — much to Sanders’ dismay — it was his boisterous backers’ flashing signs that drew the eye away from Warren’s “liberty green” clad crew inside the Southern New Hampshire University Arena.
“She’s almost at the point where she’s not in the top tier anymore,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. “In the next 48 hours she needs to figure out a way to create a wholesale shift in support into her column.”
Democratic strategist Dan Payne said, “After a poor showing in Iowa, she needs to finish first or second in her neighboring state. If not, there’s no reason to think she’ll do well in South Carolina or Nevada.”
Warren’s surrogates, including former New Hampshire State Democratic Party Chairwoman Kathy Sullivan, have spent the week downplaying concerns.
“We all recognize that Sanders won in a landslide here four years ago so he’s got a core of support here that is held over from that,” Sullivan told the Herald. “Other than that, I think it’s really a jump ball, given the number of undecided voters.”
But Londonderry, N.H., Democrat Sangita Patel said, “It’s going to be tough.”
Keene, N.H., Democrat Nathaniel Jarvie said the extra importance on New Hampshire because of the Iowa debacle “could be either good or bad for Warren. Things could be better, but they also could be worse.”
“She needs to finish I think in the top two or three,” said Christine Vattison of the Bedford, N.H., Democrats. “But she’s not going to lose our support after this primary.”