After disappointing results in the first three contests — Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada — Warren has been managing expectations about how she will perform at home on Tuesday.
“Look, I’m out here making my case to everybody all across the nation and I’m so deeply grateful to the people in my home state who helped me beat an incumbent Republican back in 2012,” Warren said, when asked if she could guarantee she’ll win her home state during an interview with CBS News after this week’s Democratic debate.
When pressed for an answer about winning Massachusetts, she did not say yes.
It’s not clear whether Warren will campaign in Massachusetts in the run-up to the primary. But her campaign recently released a list of 147 endorsements from local elected officials, and has held dozens of events in recent weeks with Massachusetts surrogates including Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, and other city councilors and state lawmakers.
Warren also received an endorsement from the Boston Globe editorial board earlier this week — the very hometown paper which had urged her in 2018 not to run for president.
But on Thursday, Sanders received the endorsement of the Daily Hampshire Gazette, a small paper in Western Massachusetts that backed him in 2016. Warren won Northampton, where the Gazette is located, by a landslide in her 2018 reelection bid with 86 percent of the vote. It was one of her best performances in the state, behind the Boston-area cities of Cambridge, where she got 90 percent of the vote, and Somerville, where she received 87 percent.
Sensing an opportunity to deal a serious blow here to his top progressive rival, Sanders has events planned across the state in the final days before the primary, starting with the Worcester festival his campaign has taken to calling “Berniepalooza.” He will hold a rally in Springfield on Friday, the largest city in Western Massachusetts, followed by a rally on the Boston Common on Saturday.
Sanders carried the western part of the state in the 2016 primary, but lost to Hillary Clinton in Boston and many of its surrounding suburbs. Clinton won narrowly statewide, 51%-49%, to win 46 of the state’s 91 delegates.
“The purpose of doing this is for the press and generating excitement. They’re not convincing any more voters at this stage of the game,” said a former Sanders staffer who worked on his Massachusetts campaign in 2016. “This is a way to stay in two media markets all weekend long.”
Earlier this week, Sanders released a new television ad in the state that features President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech about the moon landing. It’s an indirect dig at Warren, who occupies the Senate seat previously held by JFK and his brother, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. She also counts Rep. Joe Kennedy III as a surrogate, who campaigned for her in Cambridge several days ago.
And Sanders sought to drum up some goodwill among Boston activists on Thursday evening, tweeting in support of more affordable housing “instead of more gentrifying luxury developments for the few” in East Boston, where the city is considering plans to redevelop the site of a former racetrack.
Still, nothing telegraphs Sanders’ strategy like the four-day festival planned for central Massachusetts, a clear play to drum up support among his strongest demographic — young voters. An event page for the “first of its kind” festival boasts that it is so popular that the campaign can’t provide accommodations for all the volunteers.
“WE ARE FRESH OUT OF SUPPORTER HOUSING – at this point you’ll have to make your own accommodations!” the page says.
The Worcester festival is located in a city experiencing a development boom that includes importing a minor league baseball team, and an influx of breweries, artisanal bakeries and speakeasy-style bars in the city’s suburbs. That has attracted young people and families who tend to be more liberal, said state Rep. Jim O’Day who represents the area, and even the once-reliably red surrounding county is becoming more purple.
“If you look at where a lot of the newer folks moving into the area are coming from, you’d see they are emanating from the Boston area. The progressiveness of Boston, I think a little bit, is actually spreading out towards the western parts of the state,” O’Day said. “Worcester is a strong Democratic city with lots of activism going on there.”
Worcester also has a lot of young people — the city contains nine colleges and universities, which serve around 36,000 students. The city is around 69 percent white, but it has a growing Latino population. Around 21 percent of city residents are Hispanic or Latino, according to census data, and 13 percent of Worcester residents are black. In the Worcester public school system, a plurality of students are Latino.
“There’s certainly a core group of folks in Worcester that are working hard for him,” said O’Day, who has not endorsed a candidate.
Despite Sanders’ efforts on Warren’s home turf, Charlie Baker, a political strategist at Dewey Square Group in Boston, dismissed the prospect of Sanders sweeping Massachusetts. Baker supports Warren, but is not working for the campaign.
“I assume she will win Massachusetts, but the way you win the presidential nomination is you get more delegates, you get a majority of the delegates. So they’re running a campaign based on the idea of trying to get more delegates, which makes sense to me,” Baker said. “She’s got a reservoir full of support and I think that unless something strange happens, you know, she could win.”
Even if Sanders defeats Warren by a small margin, Baker said, the Massachusetts primary won’t have much bearing on Warren’s delegate math heading toward the convention.
Baker points to 2016, when Sanders lost Massachusetts by a small margin and only took one fewer delegate than Clinton.
“At the end of the day, if this is about delegates, it probably won’t matter,” Baker said. “If he gets 22 percent and she gets 21 percent, it’s the same answer.”