Fourteen months after she launched her presidential campaign, Senator Elizabeth Warren sat in the kitchen of her Cambridge home Thursday as light streamed in from the stained glass behind her, took a few bites from a takeout bowl, and read the card from a bouquet of flowers resting on the green tile.
It was over.
Hours earlier, she had told a crush of reporters outside that she was dropping out of the race after riding a tide of policy ideas and a promise to remake the economy and political system to the top of the polls last year. But she failed to build a broad enough coalition of voters to remain there and now leaves Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former vice president Joe Biden alone in the race’s top tier.
“I think I would have made a better president than either one of them, that’s why I was running,” Warren said in an interview with the Globe. “I thought it was worth fighting for another approach.”
The progressive firebrand endured humbling moments during her year-long run, especially the slew of disappointing third-place finishes on Super Tuesday that included her home state. Her voice cracked with emotion when she spoke with reporters earlier in the day. But a few hours later, Warren seemed galvanized by a campaign that has left her convinced of the power and import of her ideas — and, despite the whirlwind of speculation outside her door, defiant at the notion that she might now be obligated to lend another candidate her support during the primary.
“Why would I owe anybody an endorsement?” she said. "Is that a question they asked everybody else who dropped out of this race?”
Her exit on Thursday morning, announced first in a call to her staff and then on the street outside her house, came amid a sudden winnowing in what was one of the most diverse presidential fields in history. That field is now limited to two white men in their late 70s who Warren said in the last days of her campaign could both fail to meet the moment, although she said Thursday that she will “wholeheartedly” support the eventual nominee.
It was unclear which candidate would benefit the most from Warren’s departure. According to polling done this week by Morning Consult, 43 percent of Warren supporters said Sanders was their second choice, while 36 percent said it was Biden.
From the start of her bid, Warren’s aggressive plans to reduce political corruption and pay attention to the long shadow of structural racism delighted many progressives, but she never made wide enough inroads with voters of color or working-class Democrats who might have propelled her to victory.
Hers was a meticulous campaign that sought to change the country and politics itself, one that showed a candidate could raise real money without exclusive fund-raisers and pushed many of her competitors to give their campaigns the kind of substance baked into hers.
And it all changed Warren, too.
“There’s just a hundred ways that I’m smarter and tougher now,” she said during the interview, in which she described the policy plans she is leaving behind as a road map she hopes any future president — Democrat or Republican — will carry forward.
“I have an even clearer sense now of the world we could build,” Warren said. “The pieces are far more real. And it makes losing this chance to lead our government to make those changes far more painful.”
The campaign’s beating heart was Warren herself, who used her up-from-the-bootstraps personal story and unyielding willingness to meet personally with voters to try to connect with an electorate that could never shake its doubts about whether she could win.
Warren’s exit has raised urgent new questions about the challenges for women and people of color seeking the highest office in the land.
“I’m disappointed. And I’m disappointed for all the little girls I did pinky promises with. I’m disappointed for all the junior high debaters who believed that we could have a woman be president in 2020,” she said.
“I’m disappointed," she added, "because I really thought we could do it.”
The next few weeks seem destined to become an ideological battle over the future of the Democratic Party between Biden, who has the freshly consolidated support of the establishment and obvious momentum, and Sanders, the democratic socialist who has promised a revolution.
From the start, Warren sought to be a bridge between those two factions in the Democratic Party, mirroring how her own life and political rise have spanned different worlds.
She was an Oklahoma-born commuter college graduate whose mother didn’t believe she should go to college who became a Harvard professor with an expertise in bankruptcy, one who switched her voter registration from Republican to Democrat in the 1990s when she came to believe government was putting the interests of corporations above regular families.
As a candidate, she was an insurgent liberal who tried to use phone calls and fund-raising for others to make inroads with the Democratic establishment, even as she proudly rejected some of its trappings.
And while she was ideologically aligned with Sanders, she wanted to build support on the left while also appealing to women who backed Hillary Clinton in 2016.
But on Thursday, Warren said she had misread the contours of a race that had a deeper divide between liberal and moderate voters than she ever wanted to believe. “The moment in time matters,” Warren said. “If it is the case that most people in America see only two lanes right now and they fought for one of those two lanes, then all the things that were within our control couldn’t quite break through that.”
She ultimately found herself without a lane when voters went to the polls, placing third in Iowa, fourth in New Hampshire and Nevada, and fifth in South Carolina. She failed to build winning coalitions even in liberal bastions like California and her home state of Massachusetts — a loss she downplayed when she spoke with reporters on Thursday.
“I am deeply grateful to the people of Massachusetts,” Warren said. “Back in 2012, they took a chance on someone who had never run for public office before. . . . They’re the reason I’m in this fight and they’re the reason I am able to stand here today.”
At the beginning of her campaign, Warren had low polling numbers and thin fund-raising, hobbled by the hangover from a widely panned DNA test she took to prove her claims of Indian ancestry. She rolled out her first major policy plan — a small tax on the wealthiest Americans — in January, and soon turned ideas to break up big tech companies and tax corporate profits at a higher rate into the fuel for her summer-long rise in the polls.
Over the course of the spring, “I have a plan for that” became an applause line and then a rallying cry — and she seemed to be a neat foil to an incumbent president who has never dwelled on the details. Her campaign focused on hiring organizers, especially in Iowa, envisioning a long brawl for the nomination, and they bet that their early investment on the ground would lift them above opponents who planned to spend gobs of money on television — an assumption that turned out ultimately to be incorrect.
Warren often told the story of her own upbringing, with voters listening in rapt silence as she described her family’s financial insecurity and her “twisty-turny” path from being a college dropout to a senator.
But it was never clear that Warren was able to get that story to resonate beyond the hyper-engaged voters who came to her campaign events.
And while she won wide praise from Black activists for speaking directly and thoughtfully about structural racism, she failed to draw enough supporters from voters of color when they went to the polls.
In the interview, Warren said that she was proud of her campaign’s strategy, but that it simply wasn’t right for the political moment.
“The big decisions were right. The team we built was right. Even if we’d improved some other things, I don’t think it would have changed the outcome,” she said. “This is just a different moment in time and I’m sorry that that’s the case.”
Warren said she made her decision to drop out Wednesday. She gathered all the information she could about the Super Tuesday results — “Where are we?” she asked. “Where are we relative to others?”
Holed up at home, she held a series of calls with her team and spoke with endorsers like former presidential candidate Julian Castro and California Representative Katie Porter. (She texted with Massachusetts Representative Ayanna Pressley, she said.)
“There were people who said stay in this through the debate, this is too volatile, this is moving too fast — a week ago nobody thought we’d be where we were today,” Warren said, describing those discussions.
“And there’s truth in that, but delegates are being decided in each of these races,” she said. “So I’m pretty clear it was the right thing to do.”
And as Wednesday wound down, Warren said, she and her husband, Bruce Mann, did something they did not have much time for while she was a presidential candidate: They started watching the 3½-hour movie “The Irishman.”