MASON CITY, Iowa – Kristen Marttila’s alarm rang at 6 am on Saturday and was soon filling two thermoses, one with hot water and one with soup, to stick to the day ahead: a two-hour trip to Mason City to campaign for Senator Elizabeth Warren in the cold ice cream.
As it happened, Mrs. Warren was celebrating an event at the town hall here, and Mrs. Marttila won a raffle that allowed her to ask the last question of the day. He began by describing what he had learned through six miles of knocking on the door.
“Today I talked to a lot of people who really like you,” he said. You may even like them more. But they really are afraid to vote for who they like best. Because they worry that not enough people feel the same. “
Then he posed perhaps the most urgent question Mrs. Warren faces in 2020.
“What do we do,” he asked, “to give people the courage to vote for who they like best?”
Mrs. Warren covered little ground that day, talking about “running away from the heart” and how “fear does not win.” But on Tuesday night, before a national debate hearing and with little time to reactivate his candidacy, Ms. Warren gave her most emphatic response to date on her ability to choose: their own electoral success compared to their male opponents, the political achievements made by other candidates and their determination to unify the Democrats.
“That’s my plan,” he said Tuesday night, in an echo of his distinctive line, “and that’s why I’m going to win.”
But the fear, which reflects the doubts of many moderate Democrats, is that the cost and scale of their growing list of policy plans will scare voters in general elections, according to interviews with dozens of Democrats in the state.
Then there are concerns about his ability to defeat President Trump as a liberal democrat and overcome the challenges that sexism presents.
Warren was once the Democratic candidate to beat in Iowa, driven by the kinetic energy of her crowds and an expanding campaign infrastructure that far exceeded those of her rivals. Now he is trying to dispel doubts about his broad agenda, especially “Medicare for all,” and how well it would sell against Trump.
“As more was known about their plans, the original emotion was offset by skepticism about the practicality of their charges,” said Jeff Fager, Democratic President in Henry County in southeastern Iowa.
Mrs. Warren would listen to herself at the events. Its organizers would listen to it while they were scrutinizing. And her rivals have relentlessly tried to exploit a vulnerability that she had left largely unanswered.
Deepen Mrs. Warren’s challenge in Iowa: it has been overcome on television, exceeded online and others have matched their organization. She has been the leading television advertiser in Iowa for only a week, for example; Pete Buttigieg has spent more than double. And among the top-level candidates, Warren has dedicated the least part of his overall Facebook budget to Iowa, only 7 percent.
However, with less than three weeks left for the Iowa assemblies, Mrs. Warren of Massachusetts is still at a surprising distance. A survey conducted late last week by The Des Moines Register showed support for 17 percent, closely following Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, her ideological rival, but slightly ahead of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr and former mayor Buttigieg. from South Bend, Ind.
During the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s debate, Ms. Warren’s supporters had discussed, publicly and privately, in Iowa and beyond, that she hadn’t defended enough, compared to her rivals, that she can beat Trump.
Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota has introduced herself as a moderate Midwest; Buttigieg has presented himself as a next-generation candidate; Mr. Sanders says he can recover working class voters; and eligibility is the core of Mr. Biden’s campaign.
Eligibility is an amorphous concept that can be a disadvantage for those who do not fit the mold of all but a former president: white men.
“People who want a strong male leader who acts as a soccer coach are probably never going to vote for her,” said Nancy Gaub, 65, of Fairfield, Iowa, who attended a Warren event in December.
On Tuesday, Warren arrived at the Des Moines debate armed with a new response for his critics. “Look at the men in this scenario,” he said. “Collectively, they have lost 10 elections. The only people in this scenario who have won all the elections they have been in are women. ”Then he noticed that he had defeated a Republican in the last three decades.
However, her tone as a unifier may have suffered in the moments after the debate when the cameras captured her apparently refusing to shake the extended hand of Mr. Sanders. Then, on Wednesday, the audio of that encounter came to light, with Mrs. Warren and Mr. Sanders exchanging accusations that each of them had called himself a liar.
Friends and allies, Sanders and Warren have long argued in recent days if he told her at a private meeting in late 2018 that he did not believe that a woman could be elected president. She said he made the comment; He has denied it.
Presenting yourself as a “unit candidate” has also left Ms. Warren trapped between two politicians in Mr. Sanders (left) and Mr. Biden (right) with lasting bases of support.
And although Mrs. Warren is known for her plans, her decision in November to launch her own “Medicare for all” proposal has particularly damaged her position with the moderates who oppose the cost of the $ 20.5 billion plan and resist The idea that I could cause them. lose your private insurance, according to interviews with voters.
“Elizabeth Warren mistakenly assumed that everyone knew how great Medicare would be for everyone and how feasible it is,” said Claire Celsi, a state senator who has endorsed Mrs. Warren. “But his lack of an explanation of how he was going to pay for that caused people to be skeptical.”
Ms. Warren’s supporters believe Your initial investment in an Iowa field organization will help you in the end. A frantic series of events last weekend offered a glimpse into the organizing muscle of his campaign, while Warren campaigned with one of his national co-chairs, Representative Katie Porter of California, in a city and a former presidential rival, Julian Castro. , in other. Her husband cut the bar in a new office in Ankeny on Monday, and a group of black women who backed her headed a weekend canvas throw in Des Moines.
But there have been complaints in the western part of the state about Mrs. Warren’s relative absence. He has not been in northwest Iowa since August, and has ventured west of the Des Moines area only once in that time.
In December, Mrs. Warren He won the coveted endorsement of Art Cullen, the winning editor of the Stit Lake Times Pulitzer Prize, based in the northwestern part of the state. When she called to thank him for the support, Mr. Cullen said, he asked her why she needed to introduce herself more often.
“I have not understood why she has not been present in Iowa as much as she should be,” Cullen said in an interview. “Specifically, I mean west of Iowa.”
Warren has remained relatively absent from radio waves, a crucial means of attracting older voters in particular, even when his rivals have increased their television expenses. As of Monday, his $ 3.7 million in Iowa television ads are only a fraction of the publicity of his opponents: less than half of what Mr. Buttigieg has spent (almost $ 8 million), and barely more than the half of Mr. Sanders’ spending ($ 7.2 million), according to Advertising Analytics data.
“On the ground, according to what I’ve seen, Warren’s campaign is very focused on the type of person-to-person campaign,” said Sandy Dockendorff, a former Democratic president in Des Moines County who has backed Warren. “Not everything is based on wholesale ads.”
Warren has been similarly surpassed on Facebook, a critical digital platform, where he has only spent the fifth largest amount in the field, according to data covering the last 90 days. And although she has dedicated only 7 percent of her Facebook expenses to Iowa during that time, Buttigieg has invested more than 20 percent of her Facebook budget on ads in the state; Sanders has 11 percent and Biden with 14 percent. (Andrew Yang spent a remarkable 62 percent here).
At an event with voters in Marshalltown on Sunday, Warren was asked about the avalanche of ads that shaped the race. “The only thing that surpasses a television ad, the only thing that surpasses a Facebook ad, the only thing that surpasses fake news is you,” he said. “It’s you. It’s face to face. For me, this is what Iowa is about.”
As much as Iowa has the key to unlocking its 2020 ambitions, the Warren campaign has tried to invest well beyond the state. It has field staff in more than 30 states, and every Warren assistant in the first four competitions – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina – has already received a redistribution allowance for Super Tuesday or more.
But almost everywhere, Warren has faced questions about how he would mate with Trump. In Iowa, Democratic voters have consistently said they place greater emphasis on a candidate’s chances of beating Trump than finding someone to share his values, by a margin of two to one for most of 2019 and between 55 and 40 percent in the last registration survey.
“I am ready to take my eyes on whether to support the candidate most likely to be moderate and win the election,” said Dea Epley Birtwistle, 62, a school social worker who attended Ms. Warren’s event in Mason City.
“It will be reduced to that question of winning,” he said. “But I don’t want to feel that I sold my vote.”
Shane Goldmacher reported from Mason City and Sydney Ember from Des Moines.