Could Elizabeth Warren run the Kerry playbook next year? In the primary era, candidates who win both New Hampshire and Iowa have generally gone on to easy victories (Kerry in ’04, Gore in ’00, Carter in ’76), whereas a split decision seems to auger a long, close contest (Mondale-Hart in ’84, Clinton-Obama in ’08, Clinton-Sanders in ’16). The one exception is the anomaly of 1992, when eventual nominee Bill Clinton lost both Iowa and New Hampshire. So Warren’s path to an easy win probably involves winning both Iowa and New Hampshire, and then riding that momentum into a Nevada victory.
The assumption has long been that Warren would then have to survive a loss to Joe Biden (or perhaps Kamala Harris) in South Carolina before Super Tuesday on March 3rd. But what if, like Kerry, she gets a double-digit polling boost out of her early wins? Let’s say she leads Biden 30-25 on Iowa eve, and then by mid-February has opened up a 40-20 national edge. Maybe she wins or comes in a close second in South Carolina and then cleans up on Super Tuesday, losing only two or three states. Especially if she wins California and Texas, her delegate advantage will be virtually insurmountable, the media narrative is likely to coalesce around the race being essentially over, and the remaining candidates will have difficulty convincing anyone of their viability.
Is this really plausible? Despite her recent surge, Warren still trails Biden slightly in national polling averages. While she leads in Iowa, she’s still slightly behind Biden in New Hampshire and both Biden and Sanders in Nevada. There’s plenty of time for Biden, Sanders, or even one of the lower-polling candidates to make a run between now and when voting starts. But there are reasons to think that she will continue to rise. She’s making inroads with black voters who will be so critical in South Carolina and in many Super Tuesday tilts. She has the highest enthusiasm numbers of any of the Democratic candidates and is the predominant second choice of Sanders, Harris, and Pete Buttigieg voters.