Warren sticks to her strategy even as second loss looms

Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks to supporters in New Hampshire on Tuesday night. | M. Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO

Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy suffered a blow with her third place finish in Iowa. And if polls are accurate, it could be that bad or worse in New Hampshire, despite her neighbor-state status.

On top of that, she’s dedicated far less time and resources to the next two states, Nevada and South Carolina, making the prospect of recovering there less likely. Meanwhile, she’s carrying massive overhead: More than 1,000 staffers in 31 states, likely second only to Mike Bloomberg.

But if that all looks like cause for alarm, Warren, at least outwardly, isn’t showing it. She is campaigning as if it’s all part of the plan, baffling rival campaigns and even privately worrying a few outside allies.

In the week between Iowa and New Hampshire, there have been no messaging shakeups or public shifts in strategy. Warren, as usual, has refused to attack her rivals and stayed positive. She’s made slight tweaks to her stump speech, but her message of uniting the party to beat Donald Trump, taking on corruption and offering the broadest menu of policies is the same as it’s been for months.

The team even sent one of its highest profile surrogates, former presidential candidate Julián Castro, to Colorado last weekend, rather than New Hampshire or Nevada, as part of the campaign’s larger bet on states voting in March. It’s in stark contrast to former Vice President Joe Biden who has been on the attack against both Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg after his disappointing fourth place finish in Iowa.

Warren’s team takes pride in its orderliness.

“They have a plan, everyone knows their plan, and they are incredibly, incredibly disciplined at sticking to it,” said Nelini Stamp, strategy director for the Working Families Party, which endorsed Warren.

“Drown out the noise. Get off the pollercoaster,” tweeted Warren’s Massachusetts state director, Jossie Valentin, on Monday. “Focus on her and her message. That is what we have done for the past 12 months. That is what we will continue to do.”

Asked by reporters Sunday about her precarious position in state polls, Warren said, “I didn’t start by doing polls a year ago, and I still don’t do polls.”

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As her campaign did in a memo on Jan. 24 that talked up the campaign’s expansive organization spanning dozens of states, Warren seemed to already be looking beyond New Hampshire. “We got 55 states and territories to go. I’m in it for the long haul, I built this campaign to be in it for the long haul.”

Asked about polls again Monday, she noted that 98 percent of delegates will be chosen after New Hampshire.

Still, some strategists argued she can’t simply wait it out until Super Tuesday.

“They are built to be competitive in March, but the key for that strategy to succeed will be entering Super Tuesday with momentum by defying expectations somewhere in the first four states,” said Brian Fallon, a former top Hillary Clinton aide and executive director of Demand Justice.

Iowa was a potentially ominous sign for Warren. Sanders reconsolidated much of his left-wing 2016 vote that had flirted with Warren earlier in the campaign.

Buttigieg handily beat her much-hyped Iowa field team, including on the second round of caucusing, when the Warren team had positioned itself to make significant gains. Warren beat her poll numbers but Buttigieg beat his by more, sneaking past her as some of her outside allies had focused their fire on Biden.

Even some outside Warren allies, while admiring the discipline, are quietly questioning the underlying strategy of presenting Warren as a unity candidate, given her past reputation as a fiery populist unafraid of making enemies.

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Warren sticking to her strategy has also left some rival campaigns scratching their heads, bewildered that she’s not trying to mix it up.

“Burying your head in the sand isn’t going to work,” said an aide to one of her opponents. An aide for a different candidate argued that Warren has taken herself out of the conversation by not engaging.

But Fallon suggested Warren’s “Unite the Party” approach has limited her ability to go negative.

“To shift now and go on the attack to chase a news cycle or two would undermine their theory of the case, which is to be a unity candidate who can meld the two wings of the party together,” he said. That theory of the case differs from Biden’s and Sanders’, which is about “picking one lane exclusively and just trying to overtake the rest of the field by force.”

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