DETROIT — For a moment on Tuesday night, it almost felt like Senator Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign was back in its late-summer bloom, when she had risen to the front-runner’s spot in the race for the Democratic nomination.
“Let me just give you a sample of what’s in this anti-corruption plan,” Warren said, as the crowd of 2,000 people in front of her cheered and whooped while she called one more time for all candidates for public office to put their tax returns online.
But when the results from voting in 14 Super Tuesday states began trickling in as she left the stage, they fell short of even the modest predictions of her campaign aides only days earlier, leaving any path she still has toward the nomination narrower than ever.
Warren ended a disappointing Super Tuesday not in a state that had just voted, but in one that votes next week, pressing on with a campaign that her aides have insisted would still have a way forward even if she could not post a victory in any of the 18 states that voted between Feb. 3 and March 3.
She appeared likely to gain delegates from states such as Colorado, Maine, and Minnesota — all places where Warren’s aides privately predicted she would do well on Tuesday — and may yet notch a greater delegate haul in California, where few results were immediately available Tuesday night.
But she faced the grim reality of finishing third on her home turf of Massachusetts and seemed unlikely to pick up as many delegates overall as her aides had confidently predicted she would just days before.
“Our internal projections continue to show Elizabeth winning delegates in nearly every state in play on Super Tuesday, and in a strong position to earn a sizable delegate haul coming out of the night,” wrote her campaign manager, Roger Lau, in a Sunday memo that claimed her campaign was “built to compete in every state and territory and ultimately prevail at the national convention in Milwaukee.”
There is no way around it: A campaign that had confidently predicted on Feb. 11 that she would finish in the top two in eight out of 14 Super Tuesday states must now reckon with the fact that she may not finish better than third anywhere.
As polls closed on a day where about 35 percent of delegates were to be awarded by voters, it was not clear that Warren’s vaunted campaign organization — which has 1,000 paid staffers and has redeployed organizers around the country as early-voting states gave way to to Super Tuesday states — has been able to overcome the media narratives and nagging concerns about electability that have done so much to shape voters’ decisions in the race.
Warren alluded to that issue in particular — voters’ obsession with who they believe is best positioned to beat President Trump, regardless of their personal preferences — when she took the stage in Detroit before a single result had come in.
“What I see happening is a lot of folks trying to turn voting into some kind of strategy,” Warren said amid echoes under the tall ceilings of a building in Detroit’s Eastern Market. “Pundits, friends, neighbors are all saying you have to second-guess yourself.”
She warned that “pundits have gotten it wrong over and over” and urged voters to cast a vote “that will make you proud,” and then she told the crowd why she was still running for president.
“I’m in this race,” she said, “because I believe I will make the best president of the United States.”
In recent days, Warren has been running a race like she has no intention to quit. She notched major endorsements from women’s political organizations such as Emily’s List and the National Organization for Women’s political arm. In Los Angeles on Monday night, she gave a speech about Latina janitors who organized for labor rights, leaning into the theme of the power of the female underdog.
On Monday night, she also levied the sharpest criticism she has yet at former vice president Joe Biden.
“Nominating a man who says we do not need any fundamental change in this country will not meet this moment,” Warren said. “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."
She was prescient to see Biden as a threat. His surge after a huge win in South Carolina on Saturday reshaped the electoral map so much that he vacuumed up Super Tuesday voters even in Massachusetts — the epitome of a place that seemed destined to support Warren.
In another piece of sobering news, Warren was outperformed by former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg in several states. She eviscerated him on the debate stage in February — a performance that gave her campaign a boost in momentum and fund-raising, and likely blunted his overall momentum, but was not enough to stop him from coming third in several states where she finished fourth.
Warren did not make a public statement after she left the stage in Detroit, but her campaign team sent out a fund-raising e-mail saying it would be days before they know the full results in Texas, Colorado, and California.
“But here’s the bottom line,” the e-mail said, looking ahead: “There are six more primaries one week way.”