MONTEREY PARK, California—The pundits are saying it’s a two-man race. But one woman isn’t ready to throw in the towel.
As the sun set on the not-quite-packed quad at East Los Angeles College, a few thousand Elizabeth Warren supporters gathered to hear the last remaining major female candidate in the race—and the youngest contender at just 70 years old!—make her final pitch before Super Tuesday.
Two days ago, former Vice President Joe Biden cemented his role as the main challenger to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) with a decisive victory in South Carolina. In the 48 hours since, Tom Steyer, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) have all dropped out, with the latter two formally endorsing Biden at a competing rally in Dallas, Texas. Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and his billions of dollars can stay in the race as long as they please, but even his campaign seems to be seeing the writing on the wall.
So where does that leave Warren?
Going into Super Tuesday, Warren has just eight pledged delegates, putting her in a distant third place behind Sanders and Biden (if you discount Buttigieg). According to FiveThirtyEight’s projections, she will mostly likely drop to fourth place overall, behind Bloomberg, after Super Tuesday with Sanders and Biden nearly tied far out in the lead.
But the candidate and this crowd of her young, diverse, and majority female supporters are not prepared to cede the field to the three septuagenarian men left in the race.
“I know a lot of male talking heads on television have counted Elizabeth out,” Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the “first partner” of California, said during her introduction before adding, “one of them was forced to resign tonight.” It was a reference to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, who abruptly resigned on air Monday night following weeks of controversy. Among his transgressions was a post-debate interview with Warren during which he questioned why Bloomberg would lie about his alleged sexual harassment.
“My name is Elizabeth Warren and I’m the woman who is going to beat Donald Trump in November,” the candidate said to roars from the crowd when she finally bounded onto the stage.
Before getting into her stump speech, which consisted almost entirely of a narrative about Latina janitors—and after a brief interruption from a handful of topless “Let Dairy Die” protesters—Warren addressed the “state of the race.” She thanked Klobuchar and Buttigieg for “running spirited races.” And she congratulated Biden on his win in South Carolina.
“I respect his years of service,” she said. There was a “but” coming.
“But no matter how many Washington insiders tell you to support him, nominating their fellow Washington insider will not meet this moment,” Warren said. “Nominating a man who says we do not need any fundamental change in this country will not meet this moment. Nominating someone who wants to restore the world before Donald Trump, when the status quo has been leaving more and more people behind for decades, is a big risk for our party and our country.”
“From the start of this campaign, despite so many great candidates with so many different perspectives, voters who were worried about beating Donald Trump have been told there are only two lanes, only two choices,” Warren continued. “And now we find ourselves barreling toward another primary along the same lanes as 2016: one for an insider, one for an outsider.”
“Democratic voters should have more choice than that,” she said. “America needs more choice than that.”
In the crowd, Warren’s supporters lamented that limited choice as well—and agonized over the current state of the race even as they stood by their candidate.
Before the speech, a young woman named Amanda Brooks shared her deep concern that the American people just “aren’t ready” for a female president. She’s well aware of the pressure Warren is facing to drop out and has even heard it from friends who can’t believe she’s voting for Warren because it’s somehow “stealing” from Sanders’ total.
Another woman named Loan Nguyen-Pryor let out a deep sigh later as she explained that her own husband told her she was “wasting” her vote on Warren, which “really saddened” her.
“I just don’t see it that way,” Brooks said, explaining that instead of voting “strategically,” she wants to to vote for the person she actually “believes in.”
Emma Franzblau, a college student at UC Santa Barbara, arrived at the rally undecided on who to cast her votes for on Tuesday. “I’m probably going to wait until the very last minute to make my decision,” she said, explaining that she actually started the UCSB-for-Warren chapter before drifting towards Sanders. While Warren started her campaign as the “anti-corruption” candidate who “had a plan” for everything, Franzblau worried that the senator had evolved into little more than “the candidate who takes selfies with everyone.”
The previous night, Franzblau and her friends had attended the Sanders rally that featured performances by both Public Enemy and Dick Van Dyke in front of 17,000 people and found the whole thing somewhat more “inspiring” than Warren’s notably smaller event.
“We were probably this far from Bernie but we were surrounded in all directions and couldn’t really see anything,” she said, standing at the very back of Warren’s crowd. “So I’m actually really excited to be able to see.”
Amir Talai, an Iranian-American actor known for roles in everything from Modern Family to Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, was among the Warren volunteers on hand to staff the event, complete with a Statue of Liberty-green T-shirt. He said he has been supporting Warren from the beginning of the race. He called the establishment pressure for Warren to drop out “very entitled,” adding, “That’s not how the process works.” At the same time, Talai said that if she does step aside, he would happily support Sanders.
Others, like Michelle Lyons, a young black woman wearing an “empower women” T-shirt, felt diametrically opposed. She said she thinks Sanders is “the last person” Warren should endorse if she were to leave the race. “She needs to align with Biden and Biden should pick her as her VP,” she suggested. “Sanders further divides the country. We need someone to unite the country.”
Lyons started out as a Kamala Harris supporter but switched to Warren after the California senator dropped out back in December. “She’s the last woman standing,” Lyons said. “I think she’s going to shock the world tomorrow.”
Warren herself seemed less certain. “We face an uphill battle,” the candidate acknowledged near the end of her speech, “but we cannot allow our fear to consume us.”
Nobody knew exactly what would happen on Tuesday. But there were still a lot of selfies to take.