Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren brings her presidential campaign to Utah this week for a rally on Wednesday night. It will be the most high-profile visit by a presidential contender since Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders held a massive outdoor rally in Utah in 2016.
Traditionally, Democratic presidential candidates visit Utah to raise money in Park City, then leave without meeting with voters. During the 2016 cycle, Hillary Clinton held a fundraiser in Utah, but sent her daughter Chelsea as a surrogate for her only public campaign event. In 2008, then Sen. Barack Obama held a hastily assembled roadside rally between Park City and Salt Lake City following a fundraiser.
Warren’s campaign event on Wednesday night will mark the third declared Democratic candidate to stump in Utah. Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro campaigned in Utah in February, while Maryland Congressman John Delaney visited Utah in January of 2018.
One reason Utah is getting more attention from presidential candidates this time around is the state’s decision to hold their nominating primary on Super Tuesday in 2020. Utah joins 12 other states holding their nominating contests that day. But, Utah only has 35 delegates up for grabs, which is fewer than 10 other states in the mix, including delegate-rich California.
Utah State University political scientist Damon Cann says Utah’s move to Super Tuesday puts the Beehive State in the mix for the 2020 Democratic nomination.
“Utah’s earlier primary definitely helps here. If the Utah primary was in June, there is no way we’d be getting this kind of attention,” he said.
It also appears Warren is playing the long game in her bid to win the 2020 Democratic nod, trying to build a network of supporters in as many states as she can.
Cann says Warren appears to be taking a page out of President Obama’s 2008 playbook — looking to run strong in smaller states that are not traditional Democratic strongholds.
Here’s why that matters.
By some counts, there are 18 Democrats running for president in 2020. That field will be winnowed down in the first four states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. There are so many candidates raising so much money right now that it’s entirely possible that five or more candidates could survive past the first four contests to Super Tuesday when more than 1,400 delegates are up for grabs.
It takes 1,885 delegates to win the Democratic nomination. If there are more than a handful of candidates left on Super Tuesday, Utah’s 35 delegates could have a significant part to play. Those delegates are awarded proportionally either by congressional district or statewide. But, in order for a candidate to win delegates, they must get at least 15% of the vote. Mathematically, there are only so many candidates who can reach that 15% threshold.
An email statement from the Warren campaign provided to UtahPolicy.com says her visit to Utah is part of an overall strategy to connect with voters and campaign without relying on corporate interests for funding.
“Elizabeth’s decision to forgo high dollar fundraisers and call-time means she’s doing the work of building a grassroots movement — state by state, face to face,” the email read. “She'll continue traveling to as many places as possible in the coming months and is looking forward to being in Salt Lake City to discuss her new public lands policy and hear from voters about the issues important to them.”
Cann says Sen. Warren’s early efforts in Utah could pay off big in the future.
“She’s not just trying to win delegates, she’s trying to build a movement in the mold of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 primary campaign,” says Cann. “Rather than schmoozing a handful of wealthy prospective donors, Warren will try to replicate the powerful grassroots following that Sanders developed in the last election.”
On Monday, Warren announced in a Medium.com post on her first day as president she would restore the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments and sign an executive order banning new fossil fuel leases.