Record-setting droves of Democratic primary voters are expected to flood Massachusetts polling centers Tuesday to have their say in a tumultuous presidential race, where a thinning field and tightening polling are fueling uncertainty for campaigns and voters alike.
The primary election, just one of 14 scheduled for Super Tuesday, is expected to help shape a race where story lines shifted seemingly by the hour Monday.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, who was last week polling in a statistical dead heat with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, is fighting to avoid embarrassment in her home state, a place where she hasn’t campaigned since late 2019.
Joe Biden, the former vice president, is looking for another spark to feed the momentum from his victory from South Carolina. And Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire from Medford who’s made Super Tuesday a keystone of his late-entry campaign, is looking for a strong showing to help prove his campaign’s strategy is working.
Many voters, meanwhile, are simply searching for a candidate. The sudden departure of Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., on Sunday and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota on Monday left thousands of would-be backers scouring their alternate choices.
It’s a development that could help Biden, operating in the campaign’s newly cleared moderate lane, scratch out the 15 percent of the vote needed to capture a share of Massachusetts’s 91 delegates. Or, as Warren supporters say, it could help push enough new voters her way to distance herself from Sanders, the only major candidate to make personal appearances in Massachusetts in the final stretch before Tuesday.
“It’s been a wild 12 hours,” said state Representative Maria Robinson, who as of Sunday was co-chairing Buttigieg’s campaign in Massachusetts.
She heard he was pulling out of the race while she helped prepare signs at a Buttigieg canvassing event in Boston. By Monday morning, she said she was contacted by surrogates or officials from every other major campaign, either overtly asking for an endorsement or gauging if she was shifting allegiances.
“I’ve never been more popular,” the Framingham Democrat joked. She, like roughly 190,000 other Massachusetts Democratic primary voters, had already cast an early vote — in her case for Buttigieg — though she was still weighing who she would support now.
Amid the disarray, Secretary of State William F. Galvin is predicting record-high turnout on the Democratic side, estimating that 1.5 million voters will cast ballots. He said he expects overall turnout to fall short of the historic high set in 2008, when fierce battles in both parties drove about 2 million voters to the presidential primary polls. This year, Galvin expects voters to cast about 350,000 Republican ballots.
In 2016, there was a “well-defined fight” between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination, which produced turnout of about 1.2 million voters on the Democratic side, Galvin told reporters at a news conference Monday. The intense contest between Clinton and Barack Obama in 2008 drove Democratic turnout to about 1.3 million.
“This one’s a little different. It’s been a very twisting contest in terms of who’s up and who’s down,” he said of the 2020 Democratic presidential race. “The unifying factor on the Democratic side is a concern about making sure that President Trump is not re-elected,” and that focus also has driven a lot of interest from unenrolled voters in participating in the Democratic primary, he said.
The race has also felt wide open, despite Warren’s natural home-field advantage.
While Sanders hosted two big events in Springfield and on Boston Common over the weekend, Warren hasn’t campaigned in Massachusetts since the end of last year, even though polls have found a neck-and-neck race between the two progressives.
She was scheduled to deliver a speech in Los Angeles Monday night before flying back to Massachusetts to vote and greet supporters at her local polling site in Cambridge Tuesday morning. Yet Warren doesn’t plan to linger long: She has an event scheduled in Detroit on Tuesday night.
Strategists said it makes sense that Warren would focus now on other delegate-rich states where she is close to meeting the 15 percent threshold to win delegates rather than ensuring she ekes out a win at home.
“This is all about math at this point, and the math is to Bernie Sanders’s advantage,” Boston-based Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh said of the effort to amass a majority of pledged delegates headed into the July Democratic nominating convention.
Sanders appears to be the only candidate who has an opportunity to get to an outright majority — or 1,991 — of delegates needed to win the nomination on the first ballot. “Everyone is trying to stop him from doing that by accumulating as many delegates as they can,” she said.
Warren could also be looking down the road: She has television airtime booked in Arizona, Florida, Wisconsin, and eight other states that all vote after Tuesday, according to Advertising Analytics, a nonpartisan firm that tracks ads.
“She’s our senator, and her track record speaks for itself,” said Representative Ayanna Pressley of Boston, a prominent Warren surrogate who spent the weekend helping the Warren campaign’s get-out-the-vote efforts in Massachusetts.
Pressley said she had just Monday morning spoken with a constituent who had been supporting Buttigieg but now plans to vote for Warren. “I expect that will continue. … She is tested, she is proven, she is effective, and she is electable.”
Preparing to call voters from Sanders’s Roxbury office, David E. Mynott II, a Mission Hill Democrat, listened Monday to former Boston city councilor Tito Jackson rally Sanders supporters while also refueling on ice cream.
“He’s more of a true progressive,” Mynott said of Sanders between bites of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food. “If Bernie wasn’t in the race, I’d be all over Warren. But why go for second-best?”
One-time Buttigieg voters say, too, are looking elsewhere beyond Warren.
Carolyn LeBlanc, a 53-year-old independent voter from Woburn who was “100 percent” backing Buttigieg, said she’s now likely to vote for Biden because she considers his approach to health care more practical.
“I can’t support a candidate who’s [for] health care-for-all. I don’t believe that Medicare is an answer for the majority of people,” LeBlanc, a registered nurse, said in reference to the push for a national health insurance program that Warren and Sanders support.
Eileen Toland, 72, of Stoughton, said she, too, was leaning toward Buttigieg in the Democratic primary, but will now probably vote for Biden. The registered Democrat said Sanders is a “a little too boisterous and bombastic,” and worries whether Warren has the personality to coalesce people of different opinions.
But she has concerns over the 77-year-old Biden, too — namely his age. Toland noted she herself is “elderly.”
“I am not being unfair,” she said. “I guess it’s a gut thing.”