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November 20, 2019
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Can Warren win the nomination without majority black support?

Elizabeth Warren
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“The biggest delegate districts in the country are the majority-minority districts,” said Elaine Kamarck, a member of the Democratic National Committee and the author of “Primary Politics: Everything You Need to Know about How America Nominates its Presidential Candidates.” “African Americans because of their loyalty to their party have a large share of delegates.”

“If someone like Biden can hold onto the black vote and do well enough with the non-black vote that means they have a pretty strong path to the nomination. It’s not absolute but it’s definitely pretty substantial,” Kamarck added.

It is similar to the strategy Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton followed in 2008 and 2016, respectively, to win the nomination. Harris’ team also hopes to perform well on Super Tuesday with a focus on Southern states and her home turf of California in what one adviser dubbed “the SEC primary meets the West Coast offense.”

“What we’re staying focused and disciplined on is that this is a race for delegates,” Biden’s campaign manager, Greg Schultz, said on former Obama adviser David Plouffe’s Campaign HQ podcast in September.

Biden is leading the field among black voters nationally at 36 percent, according to Quinnipiac. In South Carolina, Biden has 50 percent support among black voters, a Fox News poll this month showed. But Warren has slowly gained in surveys of black voters: In the same October Quinnipiac poll, Warren jumped from 10 percent to 20 percent among black voters nationally. In South Carolina, Warren is at 8 percent and Sanders at 9, a statistical tie.

Biden’s campaign has called attention to Warren’s lack of support among minorities in polling. In late August, his deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, said on MSNBC: “No Democrat is going to win the nomination for president of the United States without African American support. Nor should they.”

Warren’s campaign has kept quiet about their game plan, leading some Democratic operatives to wonder whether she’ll try to plot a different course for amassing delegates that relies less on winning black votes in the South.

In a memo to supporters last month, Warren campaign manager Roger Lau wrote vaguely that the campaign intends to focus on states like Minnesota, Maine, Michigan, and Georgia. He did not mention any of the Super Tuesday states, including ones with large black electorates like Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas. Over the past two months, the Warren campaign confirmed hiring state directors in California and Texas, but have been mum on others.

“We are organizing in all 57 states and territories, but we’re not going to telegraph our entire strategy here to everyone,” the campaign told POLITICO when asked about their Super Tuesday strategy.

Warren’s campaign did acknowledge hiring a state director in North Carolina, Maggie Thompson, who has been on the job for at least one month. Warren’s team also sent organizer Chelsey Cartwright to Alabama last week, where she attended and helped organize events on maternal health for rural black women and historically black colleges and universities, according to her Twitter posts. Warren organizers have also mobilized potential supporters in Arkansas in recent weeks.

The activity suggests the campaign is making at least modest efforts to organize in the Southern Super Tuesday states.

Aimee Allison, cofounder of She the People, a group aimed at boosting women of color in politics, called Biden’s support among black voters “very soft” and said Warren has been gaining momentum. But, she added, “It is true that Elizabeth Warren has a lot of work to do in the South and Southwest in the states that are majority people of color.”

Some of Biden’s loyal supporters, like Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), who endorsed the former vice president last month, insist Warren can’t beat Biden in South Carolina even if she triumphs in Iowa. He argued that Warren as the nominee could spell doom for Democrats: “The states, I could just line them up that we’re gonna lose” with her at the top of the ticket.

Warren could conceivably win the nomination without a majority of black voters, though it would be exceedingly difficult. She would need to keep to Biden’s margin among African Americans narrow, while winning white voters handily. Warren would also need the Democratic field to shrink dramatically.

A recent Morning Consult poll captured the potential for Warren’s candidacy if the field winnows. A majority of voters who currently favor Biden, Harris or Buttigieg named Warren as their second choice. Sanders and Warren supporters named Biden as their no. 2 preference.

Theodore Johnson, a senior fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice whose research covers racial identity in electoral politics, recently crunched the numbers in a hypothetical match-up between Biden and Warren, based on the assumption that everyone else running dropped out.

“If [Warren] can stay within 20 points of Biden on the black vote, then she’s got a shot,” Johnson said. “She can’t afford to get wiped out by 40 or 50 points with black voters in the Southern states,” he added, “or in the urban areas in [states like] Pennsylvania and Ohio and Michigan.”

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