It helps to win Iowa. It’s great to win New Hampshire. Winning South Carolina is often decisive. You know what’s an absolute must?
Winning your home state.
Since the modern primary system began in 1972, no candidate lost their home state and then won the nomination. It’s a bad sign if it’s even close.
In 2016, losing Florida caused Marco Rubio to leave the race. Polls in late 2015 showed Donald Trump leading both Rubio and Jeb Bush, often combined, a clear signal that two of the early favorites were in more trouble than their campaigns were willing to admit.
Joe Biden is going to win Delaware by eleventy billion percent. This will happen even if he drops out of the race before his home state votes. Vermont always feels the Bern.
Beto O’Rourke slipped noticeably nationwide in the last quarter. He’s down to 3.6% in the Real Clear Politics average of polls, from a high near 10% when he joined the race.
But Texas is supporting their almost-was-a-Senator. He’s averaging 15.5% in the two surveys taken in the last few weeks. This puts him second behind Biden, more than four times as popular as he is away from home.
In any scenario where Beto is remotely competitive in Iowa and New Hampshire, he wins Texas. When he was sitting at 6% nationally in late April, he pulled 22% at home, one point less than Uncle Joe.
We don’t have any numbers yet on Pete Buttigieg in Indiana. I’m very curious to see how he does. If he’s trailing Biden by 5 to 8 points, no big deal, but he should be ahead of the rest.
Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, and the litany of others are both lacking polls in their home state, and doing poorly enough nationally that some skepticism at home wouldn’t mean much yet.
Julian Castro’s lower tier status is reinforced by his 3.5% placement in Texas. Perhaps he’s hampered by having served as Mayor of San Antonio instead of having campaigned statewide. Maybe he won’t be taken seriously by Texans until he is by the rest of the country. Or he’s just less popular than Beto. Regardless, he’s got work to do.
We’ve skipped two leading contenders.
Elizabeth Warren is at 11.9% nationally in the RCP average. She’s in her strongest position since entering the race. Biden is still the clear polling leader, but she’s beginning to finish ahead of Bernie in multiple surveys, and has opened up space ahead of Mayor Pete and Kamala Harris, leading each by almost 5 points on average. At worst, she’s presently sitting in third place.
Given this information, you would expect her ahead in Massachusetts. At worst closely trailing Biden. These same voters just re-elected her in November. We have a Boston Globe poll from June 5th to 9th. Annnddddd…….
She’s at 10%.
Two points ahead of Buttigieg. That’s less of a margin than she has nationwide. Up 4 on Harris. She also leads Sanders in the survey by 4, continuing an encouraging trend. What about Joe? 22%, more than double the home stater.
The Globe did not attempt to force respondents to pick a candidate. Many were undecided. Adding all the candidates up only gets you to 56%. Adjust for this and Warren suddenly leaps to a weighted result of 18%. More respectable right?
Not really. Biden moves to 39%. And if her home state voters are too unsure to have a favorite right now, that’s a problem too. This isn’t a fluke. An April poll from Emerson had Warren trailing Biden 23% to 14%, with Sanders ahead of both of them at 26%. Once again, Buttigieg was close (11%).
It didn’t matter who the pollster was. It didn’t matter if Warren was doing better nationally. It didn’t matter if Bernie was garnering a pile of support. Sure, this is the definition of small sample size. But there’s zero evidence of current convincing support at home.
Back to that November re-election. Warren easily defeated her GOP opponent (60% to 36%). Sounds great, right? That’s smaller than the margin Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in Massachusetts by in 2016 (60% to 33%).
On the same day, Bernie defeated his opponent by 40 points in equally blue Vermont. Klobuchar won her re-election by 24 points in purple Minnesota. The other Senate seat up on the same day in the same state went to the Democrat in a much closer contest. Clinton won by a single point in 2016.
Now that I’ve (hopefully) convinced you Warren has problems at home, we get to think about a few things:
Why did this happen?
She’s not from or of Massachusetts. As Warren frequently mentions, she was born and raised in Oklahoma. She spent the formative part of her career in Texas. New Jersey and Pennsylvania were once home as well.
By the time Warren entered elective politics, running for the Senate in 2012, she was already a national figure, loved on MSNBC, hated on Fox News. She did enough to win her race, but didn’t take extreme steps to bond with her state the way Hillary Clinton did in New York in 2000.
It’s not a big deal to have a legit presidential candidate from Massachusetts. JFK, Michael Dukakis, John Kerry, and Mitt Romney have all won nominations in the past 60 years. The first three spent their entire pre-nomination careers representing Bay State voters in one way or another.
She has no ties to the Kennedy dynasty, either personally or stylistically. The issues that made her famous—consumer financial protection, challenging large corporations and Wall Street, play better in more populist states.
Warren ran for office in Massachusetts because she was based there at the time and felt she had a good chance to win. She was well known enough to begin with the Senate instead of working her way up from smaller offices. And it’s not like she’d planned on a political career growing up, or as a young adult, like many of the previous Massachusetts presidential candidates.
It’s not like Warren has done anything wrong. Or that her lack of home state support indicates or in any way proves she’s a bad politician. But she’s a well-known, well left-of-center candidate, based in a state known for being very blue. As they like to say, the optics are bad.
What can she do?
She can’t help Harvard and Cambridge not being representative of the state as a whole. She can’t change being in her late 40s before she moved to the state, or over 60 before her first run for office. She didn’t have someone as unpopular with Democratic primary voters as Ted Cruz to run against like Beto did.
Massachusetts votes March 3. Only three days after South Carolina. At the same time as California, Texas, and 12 other states. Warren won’t have time to do heavy campaigning at home, without risking her results on the day the largest amount of delegates are assigned.
Her possible salvation begins with another challenge.
The New Hampshire Primary. A large proportion of primary voters are part of the outer reaches of the Boston Metro Area. It’s proven very predictive for New England-based candidates. The media will expect a Senator from Massachusetts to do well there.
In 1960 (under a different system), JFK ran mostly unopposed, and took 85%. His brother Ted, who’s Senate seat Warren is occupying, lost New Hampshire to Jimmy Carter during his 1980 primary challenge. Kennedy never recovered.
Governor Dukakis won New Hampshire easily in 1988, almost doubling the support of the second place finisher. Another senator from Massachusetts, Paul Tsongas, won the primary in 1992, defeating Bill Clinton among others.
Senator Kerry bested Howard Dean of Vermont in 2004, in a situation very similar to the current Warren-Sanders face-off. Not only did the victory propel Kerry forward, but it effectively eliminated Dean. Losing to Warren would likely burn Bernie’s chances.
She’s currently trailing Sanders. He’s ahead 16.7% to 11% in the RCP average, though the most recent poll is closer. Once again, her local results are not visibly better than her national support. This is hardly insurmountable. Kerry trailed Dean for months.
But Biden is well ahead of her. He’s averaging 29.7%. Romney was unable to dislodge a similarly elderly, nationally famous, John McCain in 2008 and went on to lose the nomination.
McCain built a direct connection with Granite State voters in 2000, and concentrated his efforts there in 2008 in a way that Biden likely won’t. This likely isn’t as difficult a task.
Warren is stuck dealing with a version of both Kerry and Romney’s obstacles though. None of her predecessor Massachusetts presidential candidates had this sort of double jeopardy.
Romney recovered from his 2008 disappointment to win the primary in 2012. That’s something to remember if Warren needs to try this again in 2024, but won’t help now.
Winning New Hampshire won’t be easy, but part of doing so is advertising heavily in the Boston TV market. Conveniently seen by more Massachusetts voters than New Hampshire voters.
The Boston local news and newspapers—remember, primary voters are often old enough to read actual printed things and watch local news—cover New Hampshire intensively.
Her campaign for her home state and neighboring state are one in the same. If she can master New Hampshire, Massachusetts will fall in line. None of her predecessors did worse in MA than they did in NH.
Warren has the name recognition and ability to attract media attention to compete well in the larger states. She’s older, but not ancient like Biden and Sanders. Her numbers are trending up nationally. Far enough left to appeal to the progressive wing, but more suitable to the party establishment than Bernie.
Lots of advantages. But she’ll need to solve her own backyard first.
In Part 2, we’ll explore how Kamala Harris is doing in California. In the most recent poll (LA Times/Berkeley), taken from 6/4 to 6/10, she’s running fourth, trailing Warren by 5 points. Six months ago, the prediction markets had her as the most likely to win the nomination. Will the Golden State propel her back to the front of the line, or end her hopes?