First, finishing fourth in New Hampshire has the potential to create a self-reinforcing negative cycle for Warren. Early primaries are as much about buzz, perception and media coverage as they are about pledged delegates. A candidate will receive more favorable media coverage, endorsements from other elected officials and campaign donations after a surprisingly strong performance in an early state. Good news can beget more good news. Warren is facing the opposite possibility — a cycle of negative buzz and/or non-coverage.
On Tuesday afternoon, before voting was over in New Hampshire, Warren campaign manager Roger Lau published a post on Medium that effectively served as a preemptive strike against just such a negative feedback loop. He argued that only Biden, Sanders and Warren have the campaign organizations and support broad enough to accumulate the delegates necessary to win the nomination. But a memo can’t really nullify a fourth-place finish in a state that partially shares a media market with the one Warren has represented in the Senate for years. I suspect Democratic Party insiders will start asking if Warren can’t win — or even finish in third in New Hampshire — where can she win? (Admittedly, in asking that question in a prominent news outlet, I’m perhaps creating or perpetuating just the kind of negative news cycle I’ve described.)
Warren’s second big problem is that there is little evidence that she’ll do better once the primary moves beyond the first two, mostly white states.