The two work together in the compliance department of a major bank, which is a bit jarring on first consideration — Warren, after all, got her start in politics by campaigning to make their employer much less profitable. On the other hand, they are definitely in Warren’s demographic of white, college-educated professionals.
The people I spoke to in Utah who were voting for Warren all fit into basically that mold. And for that matter, so did most of the Warren voters I’ve spoken to outside the state. They are successful — often very successful — but in jobs that are merely well paid and reasonably secure, rather than potential sources of fantastic wealth. They like her focus on the middle class, and agree that she is by far the smartest candidate in the race. Most often, they were first attracted to her when they saw her debate.
“She’s intensely bright,” said Steve McNamara, another Warren supporter in Utah. “We really need some intelligence in there.”
That core group of Warren voters has proved surprisingly loyal as the campaign cycle has worn on. I belong to that demographic, and my Facebook feed is filled with people wondering why Warren hasn’t done better, given that everyone they know is voting for her. Heck, I don’t even like Warren — I’ve been criticizing her academic work since long before she ran for office — and yet, I find her extremely appealing. She’s warm and folksy on the stump, detailed in her policy briefings (even if those details are dubious) and by far the best debater of her primary class.
Warren’s problem is that loyalty can’t substitute for numbers, and there just aren’t that many people in the United States who long to elect our first Wonk in Chief. This election cycle has been educational for any professional who has thought that the most important qualities in a presidential candidate are abstract verbal fluency, appealing anecdotes and a penchant for producing lengthy white papers. In point of fact, these are better qualifications for a journalist than a retail politician.
Warren is smart, bright enough to know that she couldn’t win the election by winning the hearts and minds of people who attended selective colleges. She has been doggedly trying to broaden beyond that natural constituency since the day she decided to run. It’s why she tried to outflank Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to the left on so many issues. And why she has hammered identity politics issues so consistently.
It wasn’t a bad theory, except that none of it worked. For all of the left-wing rhetoric, her campaign platform remained too transparently focused on those core professional voters. Over the past two months, I’ve spoken to a number of 2016 Sanders voters who briefly became Warren-curious before deciding that her commitment to progressivism was insincere. They opted for the hippie who spent 50 years agitating for major wealth redistribution, rather than the strait-laced teacher who clawed her way to a tenured professorship at Harvard Law School.
Her outreach to racial and sexual minorities may have failed for a different reason: The vulnerable often think they have to focus first and foremost on electability, rather than policy. I spoke to a lot of people in Utah who said their main priority was unseating President Trump come November. Such as Robert Simbe, a program coordinator for an organization that helps immigrants becomes citizens, and an immigrant himself. He told me he was voting for Joe Biden, even though he preferred Sanders, because he feared the socialist label was too toxic.
And then there was Khristian Toelupe, a trans woman who wanted to vote for Warren, after all she’d said and done on LGBTQ issues. Then she saw the polls, and —
“She’s not doing well,” Toelupe said regretfully. “So, Bernie.”
As the campaign has worn on, more and more voters seem to be looking at the polls, and making the same sort of calculation. On Super Tuesday, Warren didn’t just lose her home state of Massachusetts to Sanders, as Warren boosters had feared; she also lost it to Biden. Warren isn’t stupid, and she can read a poll, and an election map. Like a good professional, she must know it’s time to bow out.