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Elizabeth Warren under pressure in SC after 2020 bid stumbles in New Hampshire

Elizabeth Warren

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren greets employees at Bertha's Kitchen in North Charleston on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020. Jamie Lovegrove/Staff

As Ellen Brandwein listened to the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary results come in Tuesday night, she was crestfallen to hear U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren slipped to fourth place.

"I remember in 2016 when people were saying, 'Oh, I'd love to vote for a woman, just not this one,' " said Brandwein, 43, a single mother of three from West Ashley, referring to 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"Well, here she is," Brandwein said of Warren. "But people are so scared about what will happen if we don't get a Democrat in office that they're looking around trying to guess what everybody else wants instead of going with their hearts." 

Once an apparent front-runner for the Democratic nomination, Warren's struggles in the early contests of Iowa and New Hampshire — a neighboring state to her home of Massachusetts — has her campaign on the ropes and some of her South Carolina supporters concerned about the path ahead.

With two weeks to go until South Carolina's "First in the South" primary, Warren stopped in to Bertha's Kitchen in North Charleston on Friday to greet diners and eat a soul food lunch with Benny Starr, a rapper and progressive activist from Pineville.

On the way out, she briefly chatted with Nashonda Hunter, executive director of the Charity Foundation in Liberty Hill, about rival Mike Bloomberg's 2008 comments blaming the financial crisis on banks abandoning racially discriminatory practices, with both of them agreeing it was far off base.

Afterward, Hunter said she hopes Warren sticks to her policy focus in the closing weeks before the Feb. 29 primary because "that's what got us engaged with her in the first place."

"That's what happens in politics: you go up, you go down, it's a roller coaster ride," said Hunter, 37. "I think that if she continues to campaign the way that she is and continues to focus on the policies she'll put in place, that's how she'll come out on top."

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Warren's campaign surrogates have begun pointing to a third-place finish in South Carolina as what they would consider to be an expectation-defying performance, which would require her to overtake one of the three leading contenders in most recent polls: Former Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and businessman Tom Steyer.

State Rep. Kambrell Garvin, an early Warren endorser from Columbia, said many South Carolina voters he's spoken to still haven't made up their minds about who they will vote for, and likely won't until the final days before the primary.

"That gives Sen. Warren an opportunity to really come in and solidify her standing among the electorate here," Garvin said.

Warren's fall in South Carolina roughly coincided with Steyer's rise as the billionaire hedge fund manager began spending millions of dollars on advertising in the state.

"When you're running against folks that have unlimited sums of money that they can dump into this primary, there's no question that a candidate who's fully funded by grassroots supporters will have difficulties competing if the money slows down," Garvin said. 

But, Garvin added, if Warren can finish well in South Carolina, she could prove herself as a "viable alternative" and revive the cash flow to her campaign.

While Brandwein said she is now more worried about Warren's prospects, her only reaction has been to "work harder" — find more time to volunteer for the campaign, knock on more doors, donate more money and spread Warren's message on social media.

"I know she's not going to give up because she promised us — she promised everyone — that this is what girls do," Brandwein said. "But if she does run out of money and she runs out of support, then she has done everything she could and it was our failure. It was the country's failure."

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.

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