After a strong showing in the first debate of the Democratic primary, many felt that Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren turned in yet another excellent performance in the second debate on Tuesday night. Her most iconic moment - and perhaps the best moment of both nights of debate, came in her response to moderate former Representative John Delaney when she quipped, after one of his many attempts to cast her plans as unrealistic; "I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running to be the president of the United States to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for." This is the very thesis statement of Warren's campaign, which is predicated on the notion that the Democratic electorate's desire to elect whatever candidate is most likely to ensure a safe victory over current President Donald Trump rather than the candidate they agree with the most ideologically is a false one. Warren's campaign asks - to paraphrase a much-memed Old El Paso commercial - porque no los dos?
It's a question that speaks to many Democrats, with recent national polling by Quinnipiac University indicating that Warren is currently in second place for nomination at 15%. These polling numbers may also help quell concerns about Warren's fundraising efforts, which were eclipsed in her own state of Massachusetts by South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Warren has famously sworn off taking any money from corporations or SuperPACs,and while Warren supporters may argue that Warren raised money from more different donors and across a much broader geographic region, There's no denying money goes a long way in politics, but Warren is polling ahead of both who is considered her chief ideological rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (11%), and also significantly ahead of Buttigieg (6%). Warren’s favorability represents a one percent increase from a similar poll conducted earlier this month. However, in a field as crowded as the Democratic primary and with numbers so small, it's worth taking this with a significant grain of salt. The margin of error on this poll? 3.4%.
The chief surprise emerging from Monday’s poll was a surge of support for former Vice President Joe Biden. After being widely panned for his performance in the first debate and emerging from the second debate with a showing The New York Times could only describe as "fine", his support sits at a surprising 34%, as opposed to previous polls indicating only 22%. This suggests that Biden may have a dominant hold on the party moderates, and his centrist dominance isn't being widely contested, in spite of the seemingly dozens of interchangeable purple state candidates that are vying for the position Biden currently holds of the reasonable, experienced, moderate old-timer. The progressive wing, on the other hand, is much more crowded with all the other big names, from Sanders and Warren to Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. What likely worries the Biden camp is the other 3/4 of Democratic primary voters, and if his lead is only because they currently are splitting their support between more progressive candidates and will band against him as the field narrows down, or, more likely, as the vast majority of Democrats who still consider themselves undecided make up their minds, and not in his favor.
“In 2018, Elizabeth raised and donated $11 million to help elect Democrats up and down the ballot across the country, as she won by a 24-point margin without spending any money on television ads,” Warren spokesperson Gabrielle Farrell told Vox earlier this week. “She ran to proudly fight for the people of Massachusetts, and now she’s running for president because our country needs big structural change, and she has a plan to make our government work for everyone, not just a thin slice at the top.”
But not everyone shares Farrell’s optimism over Warren’s support in Massachusetts.
“The fact that Warren underperformed Hillary Clinton in 228 of Massachusetts’s 351 towns, and did so in a blue wave year, speaks to her weakness with working-class white voters on the ballot,” indicated Cook Political Report editor Dave Wasserman. “Many parts of Massachusetts are culturally more similar to Wisconsin or Michigan than they are to Cambridge or Boston or Amherst. And that has to be a serious concern for next November, should it get to that.”
Local polls released last month by Suffolk University and the Boston Globe indicated an 11 point lead by Biden over Warren at 22% and 10%, respectively. But again, what's most significant isn't those who have decided, it's those who haven't. The majority of Massachusetts Democratic primary voters - 41% of them - are still undecided. And any pollster or pundit who says they can predict who an undecided voter will support, as the 2016 election showed everyone, is not someone to be believed.
Image via Flickr / Elizabeth Warren Campaign