By Astead W. Herndon and Shane Goldmacher
BOSTON – Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts plans to drop out of the presidential race on Thursday and will inform her staff of her plans later this morning, according to a person close to her, ending a run defined by an avalanche of policy plans that aimed to pull the Democratic Party to the left and appealed to enough voters to make her briefly a front-runner last fall, but that proved unable to translate excitement from elite progressives into backing from the party's more working-class and diverse base.
Though her support had eroded by Super Tuesday, in her final weeks as a candidate she effectively drove the centrist billionaire, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, out of the race with debate performances that flashed her evident skills and political potential.
She entered the race railing against the corrosive power of big money, and one long-term consequence of her campaign is that Warren demonstrated that someone other than Sen. Bernie Sanders, and his intensely loyal small-dollar donors, could fund a credible presidential campaign without holding fundraisers.
Her potential endorsement is highly sought after in the race and both Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden have spoken with Warren since Super Tuesday, when the end of her campaign appeared imminent.
Warren's political demise was a death by a thousand cuts, not a dramatic implosion but a steady decline. Last October, according to most national polls, Warren was the national pacesetter in the Democratic field. By December, she had fallen to the edge of the top tier, wounded by a presidential debate in November where her opponents relentlessly attacked her. She invested heavily in the early states, with a ground game that was the envy of her rivals. But it did not pay off: In the first four early voting states, Warren slid from third place in Iowa to fourth in New Hampshire and Nevada to fifth in South Carolina. By Super Tuesday, her campaign was effectively over – with the final blow of a third-place finish in the primary of her home state, Massachusetts.
The news clarifies that a Democratic field that began with a record number of female candidates has now become a contest between Biden, 77, and Sanders, 78.
Warren's exit also clears the party's left lane for Sanders, who had a more muted showing on Super Tuesday than polls had predicted. The Sanders campaign will now aim to attract enough of Warren's ideologically progressive supporters to put him over the top in a closely contested primary.
Warren arrived on the political scene in the aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse and shot to superstardom with her indictments of Wall Street and unfettered capitalism.
In 2016, some progressive organizations mounted "Run Warren Run" campaigns and her eventual presidential rival, Sanders, floated her name as a possible challenger to Hillary Clinton, but Warren resisted the urge to run then.
Four years later, when Warren did decide to pursue the Democratic nomination, she entered a changed political terrain – a challenging landscape whose obstacles she was never able to overcome. Sanders' political stock had soared after he ran against Clinton in 2016, giving him an immediate advantage in fundraising and name recognition that complicated Warren's electoral path.
And Donald Trump was not just a reality TV star and one of many potential Republican rivals in 2020. He was the president, and his election seemed to shock the Democratic base into an electability-induced stupor. Voters constantly second-guessed their electoral choices as they tried to game out which candidate would be best equipped to beat him.
Biden, in particular, has capitalized on this anxiety to drive voters to his candidacy.
Warren's allies and supporters said the question of electability – who would be the surest bet to defeat the president – disproportionately hurt all the women who ran for president this cycle. Voters, they argue, were swayed by a media narrative that a woman would have a more difficult time defeating Trump, informed by Clinton's unexpected loss in 2016.
At recent events, Warren had taken to speaking to voters directly about their electability fears, imploring them to tune out pundits who were writing her off and vote their own conscience.
"Here's my advice: Cast a vote that will make you proud," Warren told voters on Super Tuesday, speaking in Detroit. "Cast a vote from your heart. Vote for the person you think will make the best president of the United States."
Though her allies stress structural barriers, Warren's shortcomings as a candidate had a great deal to do with her operation. At times, Warren's campaign did not reflect the urgency of a candidacy trying to make history, not only as the first female president, but also through a program of systemic upheaval that would include government-run health care, free public college, student debt cancellation, breaking up big tech companies, universal child care, and significant tax increases on the wealthiest individuals and corporations.
During debates ahead of the votes in Iowa and New Hampshire, two states where Warren had invested many of her presidential hopes, she took a back seat to other candidates like Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. Her campaign chose not to invest heavily in television advertising, and was dominated on the airwaves in early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire. Its bet on organizing staff failed to change the picture.
She had also embraced a vague message declaring her the "unity candidate," dropping the policy-focused message that had seemed to resonate with voters early on and pitching herself as the electoral compromise between the left-wing dominated by Sanders and the moderate wing led by former Biden.
It did not work.