In fact, Sanders lost several states as a direct outcome of Warren needlessly staying in the race
The 72 hours between the South Carolina primary and Super Tuesday upset whatever projections had been made in the post-Nevada scenario. FiveThirtyEight pivoted and gave Biden a higher projection of winning a plurality of delegates than Sanders for the first time since Iowa.
The slanted, glowing media coverage that followed Biden’s blowout victory in a state he had long been expected to win, and into which he had dumped all his resources and person since Iowa - set the tone for the subsequent 14-state contest about to happen, where Bernie Sanders had expected to win big. Sanders’ own blowout victory in Nevada hadn’t gained even a fraction of coverage.
FiveThirtyEight had slated Sanders to win every state except Alabama and Minnesota, and the subsequent polls showed far greater gains than that. He was tied with Biden in North Carolina, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Virginia, marginally leading in Maine, Tennessee and Minnesota, in the clear lead in Texas and Massachusetts – and leading with a significantly large margin in Vermont, Colorado, California and Utah. Super Tuesday was indeed looking excellent for Bernie Sanders. But the momentum came at a cost to someone else – Elizabeth Warren.
Warren performed ridiculously badly in Iowa and New Hampshire, which were supposed to be her best states outside of home base, despite having invested almost all her resources into these two states. Her moderate and liberal base abandoned her for Buttigieg and Klobuchar, both of whom sidelined the unity pitch of her candidacy as between the binary of Sanders and Biden.
Throughout the past two years, she failed to outshine the one candidate she was competing with for the progressive lane. Her attempt to appeal to voters of colors was an abject failure and she joined Buttigieg and Klobuchar as a candidate with the whitest base. Nevada and South Carolina were never looking good for her and yet she decided to go ahead.
Doing so was a disaster for her campaign, and she did even worse than the previous two states. After having long overstayed her welcome, it was decisively time for her to drop out. She held on instead, focusing on debate performances, despite being a marginal candidate.
It was clear she had no path forward, and that she was sitting in fourth or fifth place with Super Tuesday looming. She was also almost entirely out of funds. The Democratic party establishment, panicking at the Sanders victory in the first three states, decided to spin Biden’s expected South Carolina saving grace victory as a monumental comeback – and the wheels of power turned.
Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg, both of whom had outperformed Warren, quickly dropped out and endorsed Joe Biden, along with the entire establishment including Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Beto O’Rourke and Harry Reid. The entire party elite coalesced around a single candidate, while Warren’s own prospects in the polls were terrible. She was winning no state and coming in 2nd only in Massachusetts, her own state. In most states, she wasn’t even qualifying for a single delegate, though she was eating up upwards of ten percent of the voteshare.
Suddenly, the mountain before the progressive movement to climb rapidly grew. Elizabeth Warren, instead of dropping out because she had no path to the nomination, and strengthening the current frontrunner Sanders – chose to declare that she would fight till the convention – a move to stop Sanders from winning the nomination on his own.
Despite swearing off SuperPACs as late as 9th February, within a week there was a Warren-only SuperPAC named Persist PAC set up to spend $12 million in Super Tuesday states on her failed candidacy.
The days between Nevada and Super Tuesday, she spent relentlessly attacking Sanders – on his record of getting things done, on him ability to unity the party and on his uncompromising agenda – despite knowing he is the progressive movement’s only chance.
The consequences were huge:
Biden ended up winning 10 out of 14 states, including states he never really expected to win, with Sanders just winning Utah, Colorado, Vermont and California – effectively tied in Maine.
Warren did not even come in the top 2 in any state, losing her home state rather badly, and barely winning any delegates, absolutely unviable in most states. Yet, the 10-18% voteshare that she occupied in some states despite being far behind overall, was decisive in handing Biden victories and hundreds of delegates for free.
In fact, Sanders lost several states as a direct outcome of Warren needlessly staying in the race:
1. With Warren out of the race, Sanders was certain to have overcome his 33-44 tie with Joe Biden in Maine by far. Warren got 16%.
2. Biden was shocked at winning Minnesota, where Sanders (30%) + Warren (15%, barely viable by a hair) votes easily overcame Biden’s voteshare of 38 percent.
3. Elizabeth Warren had such a disappointing finish in her home state of Massachusetts, that it would have been better to not have contested in the first place. Biden won with 34%, Sanders got 27% and Warren received 21%. Sanders would have won. There was no other way for Biden to win.
4. Joe Biden’s victory in delegate-rich Texas with him winning 34% to Sanders’ 30% came entirely out of the fact that Warren received 11% of the vote.
5. Oklahoma would have likely resulted in a tie – a delegate tie if not a close vote-share one – between Sanders and Biden. Sanders and Warren together received 25.4 + 13.4 percent of the vote, a tiny amount more than Biden’s 38.7%
Further, Warren blunted Sanders’ victories in others states, which could have been potential blowouts giving him huge delegate leads – cementing his frontrunner status for good. Without Warren, Sanders could have received a maximum (arbitrary) of: 63% in Vermont (got 51%), 50% in Utah (got 35%), 53% in Colorado (got 36%), 45.5% in California (got 33.5%). California is of course, still counting the mail-in early ballots and Sanders’ lead is expected to extend further.
Warren dropping out would have blunted Biden’s victories in states he won big in over Bernie to: 8% in Arkansas (was 18%), 9% in North Carolina (was 19%), 6% in Tennessee (from 16%), 20% in Virginia (from 30%) – netting Sanders quite a few more delegates –though Warren herself wasn’t viable for a single delegate in any of these states.
Without Warren, Sanders would have won 9 states to Biden’s 5 – and would have had an insurmountable delegate lead – instead of the tie likely to happen when California delegates are fully allocated.
The only reason I did not add Bloomberg’s total to Biden’s was because there was zero chance of Bloomberg dropping out before Super Tuesday after dropping half a billion dollars into those primaries.
The problem was not Amy and Pete dropping out, but Warren staying in. Had she done so, the outcome would have been more than good for Sanders despite the party leadership’s machinations. The obstacles in front of the Sanders campaign have only grown.
While Biden is currently leading Sanders by 70 delegates, it is expected that after the full counting and allotment of delegates in California, Colorado, Texas and Utah, the race is likely to be a tie between Sanders and Biden before the next primary. More than 70% of delegates have not been allocated in California, and 40-50% for the abovementioned states.
Whether willingly, or unwittingly – Warren was more or less part of the effort to stop Sanders from getting the Democratic nomination, by hook or crook.
Today, Michael Bloomberg has called off his campaign and quickly endorsed Biden, whose electoral weakness was the sole reason got into the race in the first place. Meanwhile, Warren is still refusing to drop out.
Warren has clearly demonstrated that she was prepared to cripple the Sanders campaign. It’s funny how the “second most progressive candidate” is ready to intentionally destroy the progressive movement for her petty personal ambitions. The only reason she was in the race after a certain point was either for herself or to stop Biden – and not for the working class, the disenfranchised, the marginalized and the downtrodden. A vote for Warren was indeed a vote for Biden.
The author is a PhD research scholar in Modern and Contemporary History at Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.