In this edition: The meaning of Warren's exit, the tough March math for Sanders, and the first poll from Michigan.

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Elizabeth Warren's 430-day campaign for the presidency ended where and how it began: outside her Massachusetts home, talking to very skeptical reporters. For the first time, a candidate who despised horse-race questions and the “poller-coaster” suggested that she never really had a path to victory.

“I was told at the beginning of this undertaking that there were two lanes: a progressive lane that Bernie Sanders is the incumbent for, and a moderate lane that Joe Biden is the incumbent for, and no room for anyone else,” Warren said. “I thought that wasn't right. Evidently, I was wrong.”

Warren's collapse, which will free up a substantial bloc of left-leaning primary voters, may not expand that “progressive lane” enough to help Sanders. There are plenty of primaries left and 62 percent of delegates for Democratic voters to award. 

But after Super Tuesday rebooted the primary, the left may struggle to do what it spent years planning for — build a winning coalition of white liberals, the nonwhite working class, and new voters. Both Warren and Sanders had worked to win black voters away from the “moderate lane,” and both had failed. That struggle, and the benefit it gave to Joe Biden, revealed how the path for any “progressive” candidate was narrower than it looked last year.

“African Americans really understand that Donald Trump poses an existential threat,” said Rep. Barbara Lee of California, who had urged Sanders to run for president in 2016, endorsed Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California in this primary, and remained neutral after that campaign ended. It was “a wake-up call,” she said, for anyone trying to build a liberal primary coalition without winning black voters. 

Warren and Sanders had strong theories about how to broaden their base and a constellation of social justice organizations that looked ready to help them. Warren's initial rise in this primary began with a dominant performance at a conference organized by “She the People,” a California-based organization formed to give women of color a bigger voice in the political process. She impressed voters in speeches to the National Action Network and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, founded respectively by the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, by talking through the details of ambitious plans to fix housing and financial discrimination.

In front of black and white audiences, Warren would mention that her college debt forgiveness plan could dramatically shrink the black-white wealth gap. She found obscure corners of the bureaucracy, such as the Minority Business Development Agency, and talked about multiplying their budgets. Sanders, who'd already been through a shellacking with black voters in the 2016 primary, went even further; in a November visit to Morehouse College, not far from a statue of Martin Luther King Jr., he unveiled a plan to cancel the debt of historically black colleges, dramatically increase their budgets and make most of them tuition free. And those plans came from black campaign staffers.

The result of all that was a small increase in Sanders's share of the black vote from 2016 to 2020, and a smaller share of black votes for Warren. In mostly black precincts and congressional districts, she fell below the 15 percent delegate threshold, again and again. Sanders fared only a little better. Of the many insurgents who'd sought the Democratic nomination, only a black candidate, Barack Obama, had been able to unite the party's most reliable voters with its most passionate ideologues.

“Any analysis that you can win the primary without black voters or you can win the presidency without a black voter strategy should be put to rest,” said Rashad Robinson, the president of Color of Change. “They definitely had a theory that involved expanding the base and expanding the turnout in numbers that offset some of these relationships that he didn't have. And that just didn't happen.”

Neither candidate had a strategy for actually winning the black vote, only for mitigating losses while dominating the “progressive lane.” Eleven months ago, the Sanders campaign sketched out a scenario in which Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California took black votes away from Joe Biden, allowing the senator from Vermont to perform just strongly enough to win a plurality of delegates. In the final days before the South Carolina primary, the campaign saw Tom Steyer, whose well-funded and quixotic campaign focused on black voters, restoring their chance of winning without the black vote. It simply didn't happen.

After Tuesday, Sanders appeared to scale back his ambitions with black voters, canceling a trip he had planned for Jackson, Miss. That location had been meaningful: Sanders was endorsed by its mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, a radical, rising star in the party, who had invited Sanders to the city two years ago to talk about civil rights and political reform. The new left-wing movement that had been built since 2008, benefiting both Warren and Sanders, had produced plenty of stars, and driven the entire party to the left.

But as Warren found, that movement did not control the nomination. Biden's advances came without paying tribute to many of the left's new leaders and causes. He had entered the race, for example, a day after that “She the People” forum, and he had skipped some cattle-call events that left-wing groups held to sort out their choices. Ady Barkan, an activist who uses a motorized chair because of ALS, invited every Democrat to talk with him about health care. Warren came, and got his endorsement; Biden was the one major candidate who declined. 

Exit polling in early states has found Democrats largely ready to replace private health insurance with a government plan and even found some comfort with the label of “socialism,” but Biden has been winning without making many concessions to the party’s left.

Sanders has weeks left to win the argument with Biden and started to try this week, by launching attacks on Biden's vote for NAFTA and his flirtations with cutting Social Security. As Warren declined, he strengthened his grip on left-wing and liberal groups, officially grabbing the support of the Howard Dean-founded Democracy for America this week.

On her way out of the race, though, Warren was already writing a requiem for the idea that the left could win a presidential contest. Her consolation prize, one that Sanders was happy to give her, was that she had cut down Mike Bloomberg.

“We have been willing to fight, and, when necessary, we left plenty of blood and teeth on the floor,” Warren told staffers before leaving the race. “And I can think of one billionaire who has been denied the chance to buy this election." 

Reading list

“Sen. Elizabeth Warren ends presidential campaign,” by Amy B Wang and Annie Linskey

Persistence runs out in Cambridge.

“Sanders campaign hatches comeback plan,” by Holly Otterbein

The possibilities of a two-way contest with Joe Biden.

“Black voters, ‘Whole Foods moms’ and an anti-Trump base: Biden builds coalition that could boost Democrats in November,” by Toluse Olorunnipa, Chelsea Janes, and Gregory S. Schneider

Inside the Biden electoral math.

“The media decides,” by Osita Nwanevu

Hard feelings about Biden's last-minute surge.

“How much money Mike Bloomberg spent per vote,” by Kevin Schaul and Alyssa Fowers

It was a lot.

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In the states

As loyal Trailer readers know, the next three weeks will sort out nearly as many delegates as were picked on Super Tuesday. As extremely loyal readers might realize, the final count in California might not be finished until March has turned into April. We'll have deeper dives into these primaries as they approach, but in the short term, the next run of primaries looks like trouble for Bernie Sanders unless he's able to change the coalition he built in the first four states and Super Tuesday.

That might sound surprising, as next week's primaries are mostly in places that he won four years ago. Of all the states voting March 10, just two of them — Mississippi and Missouri — backed Hillary Clinton in the last primary. Idaho, Michigan, North Dakota, and Washington all delivered wins for Sanders, and Michigan, all by itself, gave him the momentum to keep running through June.

But as Sanders learned brutally Tuesday, this is not 2016. Idaho and Washington have scrapped their caucuses in favor of primaries, a change that proved devastating to Sanders in this week's primaries. In Minnesota, where a little more than 200,000 Democrats participated in the 2016 caucuses, more than 800,000 of them turned out to vote in this year's primary. 

The good news for Sanders in Minnesota, to date the only primary in the Midwest, was that he gained massively with black voters, losing them by just five points to Joe Biden. The bad news was that he won just 27 percent of white voters, an electorate he'd dominated in 2016's Midwest primaries. If voters sort themselves out in similar ways in Michigan next week, Sanders will badly lose the state. 

Early voting, a factor in both Washington and Michigan, helped him win Colorado, Utah, and California this week. But in Michigan, most voting will occur long after the race narrowed, and as CBS News's Adam Brewer reported, nearly 16,000 Michiganders who voted absentee have requested new ballots, probably as a result of the candidates they supported dropping out.

Four years ago, the states that now vote March 10 gave a clear delegate majority to Sanders: 212 for him, 167 for Clinton. Winning the delegates that day by any margin would cause second thoughts about Biden's strength. Losing them would reveal further decline in Sanders's coalition, with a week to go before primaries in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio, all of which he lost in 2016.

The biggest clue to how Democrats are looking at this race might have come in Montana, where Gov. Steve Bullock, briefly a candidate for president, is expected to announce a Senate bid right before the Friday deadline. That would have been less likely had Sanders, seen by Democrats as a drag in red and purple states, had a clear advantage after Tuesday.

Poll watch

Michigan primary (WDIV/Detroit News, 600 voters)

Joe Biden: 29%
Bernie Sanders: 23%
Mike Bloomberg: 11%
Elizabeth Warren: 7%
Pete Buttigieg: 6%
Amy Klobuchar: 3%

You're not hallucinating. This poll came back from the field when there were seven candidates running for the Democratic nomination and was published as the field shrank, effectively, to two. (Tulsi Gabbard, who held a Michigan town hall Super Tuesday, had support too low to measure.) There has been hardly any polling in the biggest March 10 primary state, and polling failed badly there in 2016, not catching a surge of late-deciding voters for Sanders. But Sanders starts the sprint to Michigan in a weaker position than he was in the race against Hillary Clinton.

Candidate tracker

The field of Democratic candidates has shrunk nearly every single day of this week, and this section, which follows their moves around the country, will be shrinking, too. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who is so far making good on her promise to campaign all the way to the convention, remains in the race but is holding few events and making few public statements. Joe Biden, who has seen a surge of donor interest since the South Carolina primary, is making some public appearances but focusing just as much on fundraising. From here on out, we'll have briefer updates on what the candidates themselves are doing, and general updates on candidates who are in the race but running scaled-back campaigns.

Bernie Sanders. He scrapped his Friday plans to deliver remarks in Jackson, Miss., but he will head to Detroit for a rally. On Saturday, he'll campaign in Chicago's Grant Park, ahead of Illinois's March 17 primary; on Sunday, he'll return to Michigan for a rally in Grand Rapids. 

Joe Biden. He'll return to the trail Friday, with get-out-the-vote events in Kansas City and St. Louis, followed by a Sunday gathering in Jackson, Miss. 

Tulsi Gabbard. On Saturday, she will return to a state whose delegates have already been chosen: Nevada. Per Gabbard's campaign, she will “attend a town hall in Las Vegas moderated by NORML,” the marijuana legalization campaign.

Dems in disarray

There have been many losers in the 2020 Democratic primaries — more than two dozen candidates whose paths to the nomination turned out to be mirages. None of them lost as much as Iowa and New Hampshire, the early states that watched their clout disappear as the race moved elsewhere.

No candidate has ever run worse than third place in one of the first two states and gone on to win the nomination. In 1972, 1976, 2004 and 2008, Iowa voters effectively picked the party's nominee, elevating underdog candidates and giving them national media attention. In 1952, 1968, 1972, 1984 and 2016, New Hampshire voters tore down the establishment candidates, either forcing them out of the race or setting up lengthy primaries that reshaped the party.

This year, unless Bernie Sanders wins the Democratic nomination — and winning 54 percent of the remaining delegates would do that — the first two contests achieved a staggering new level of irrelevance. Iowa voters elevated Pete Buttigieg, a candidate with next to zero appeal among black and brown voters. New Hampshire voters gave a last-minute boost to Amy Klobuchar, on the strength of one better-than-usual debate performance. (Her usual performance was also pretty strong.)

Both candidates were out of the race within 30 days, and Buttigieg set a record for the speed at which an Iowa winner suspended his campaign.

“Iowans are in a weird place right now,” said Sean Bagniewski, the chairman of the Democratic Party in Polk County. “They’re angry about caucus night, they’re angry about caucus reporting, and there’s a little feeling of loss. So many of the candidates people wanted to vote for didn’t even make it to the caucus, and the candidate many saw [as] a redeeming character, Pete Buttigieg, didn’t make it to Super Tuesday.”

In both early states, Biden ran weaker campaigns than his rivals. In both states, he ran up against an attitude simply not shared by voters in Nevada and South Carolina: that it was time for the party to nominate a fresh face. By the night of New Hampshire's primary, when he bolted the state for a rally in South Carolina, Biden was outwardly dismissive of the early states.

Up till now, we haven’t heard from the most committed constituency in the Democratic Party — the African American community,” Biden said in Charleston.

Ray Buckley, the longtime chairman of New Hampshire's Democratic Party, argued that the results validated the first four states, as a unit. “This is exactly why we were so enthusiastic about including our two other sister states,” he said. “Including Nevada and South Carolina did bring out that regional diversity.”

Buckley argued that Biden's collapse in his state masked how voters never stopped liking him. They were, he said, “ready to support whoever would be the leading alternative to Donald Trump,” not necessarily opposed to Biden. 

“Joe Biden was the first or second choice for a lot of folks in New Hampshire,” Buckley said. “We don't have ranked-choice voting. If we did, I think the vice president would have done very well." 


… five days until Super Tuesday II
… 10 days until the 11th Democratic debate
… 12 days until Super Tuesday III
… 19 days until the Georgia primary
… 24 days until the Puerto Rico primary