While Klobuchar surges, Warren flounders

In June only Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren: Bloomberg making debate will show how other candidates handle 'an egomaniac billionaire' Klobuchar campaign gets first super PAC HuffPost reporter: Sanders could win plurality of delegates but lose nomination MORE (D-Mass.) and Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioBloomberg compared civil libertarians, teachers union to NRA 'extremists' in 2013: report De Blasio endorses Sanders for president While Klobuchar surges, Warren flounders MORE (D) raised their hands to support abolishing private insurance in one of the split Democratic primary debates. 

Last week only Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharKlobuchar campaign gets first super PAC Sanders leads among Latino voters: poll How the media fall in and out of love with candidates MORE (D-Minn.) raised her hand when George StephanopoulosGeorge Robert StephanopoulosWhile Klobuchar surges, Warren flounders The Hill's Morning Report - Sanders, Buttigieg do battle in New Hampshire Democrats ramp up attacks on opponents in final pitch before New Hampshire MORE asked the candidates if they were troubled by the prospect of a socialist leading the ticket. 

Independents favor Klobuchar’s approach, as New Hampshire voters showed on Tuesday.

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Gallup just released a poll showing wide discomfort nationwide with only one kind of president: a socialist. Americans are comfortable voting for every other group tested — multiple religions, multiple races, gays and lesbians, and now atheists — but not for a socialist. Independents display the same trend, with only 45 percent comfortable voting for a socialist, and the margin is steep. The next lowest number, for atheists and candidates over the age of 70, is 68 percent. 

It bears noting that Bernie SandersBernie SandersBloomberg campaign: Primary is two-way race with Sanders Warren: Bloomberg making debate will show how other candidates handle 'an egomaniac billionaire' HuffPost reporter: Sanders could win plurality of delegates but lose nomination MORE has seen continued success in the primary despite this dynamic. 

This stems from a finite group of supporters, both Democrats and unaffiliated leftists. They are mostly more devoted to Sen. Sanders than to the Democratic Party or to electoral success, and as Elizabeth Warren has seen, their ardor for Bernie does not translate to viable numbers for other candidates who embrace bona fide socialism. For all its volume online and among activists, the pro-socialist base is too small and focused on Bernie.

Against this backdrop, Klobuchar’s surge comes into focus. Many of the 55 percent of Americans and independents who won’t vote for socialism will vote for a Democrat. Klobuchar has made a forceful distinction between herself and Bernie’s brand of socialism while other moderate candidates, and certainly Elizabeth Warren, have chosen not to do so. The Klobuchar surge has been fueled by independents.

Democrats should follow her lead for exactly that reason. As a matter of electoral math, a blue victory in November requires winning a majority of independents. Registered Democrats still make up a minority nationwide, only 27 percent versus 45 percent not enrolled in either party. While most independent voters lean towards a party, swing voters are real - and can be decisive. 

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The progressive data firm Catalist showed that 89 percent of the Democratic victory in 2018 was due to vote switching, with just 11 percent due to changes in voter turnout from 2016. Independents will be part of any Democratic victory and need to be courted if Democrats want any hope of winning elections and passing their values into public policy.  

Elizabeth Warren spent much of her career in roles with natural appeal to independents. Paired with authentically progressive convictions, her history as a registered Republican, her considered party switch, her defense of consumers, and her record of quietly working across the aisle could have made for the type of message that appeals to independents.

Instead, she raised her hand for taking away private healthcare and kept a message tailored to the most liberal Democrats. Klobuchar raised her hand on behalf of the nation’s independents, and along with South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegHuffPost reporter: Sanders could win plurality of delegates but lose nomination Sanders campaign expands operations in Michigan Sanders leads among Latino voters: poll MORE has explicitly wooed them.

Polls show that Warren has the largest negative split between registered Democrats and Independents who plan to vote in the Democratic primary. Klobuchar was on the other end of the spectrum in New Hampshire, performing better with independents than with registered Democrats.=

Warren has recently pivoted her campaign message from fighter to unifier, framing her candidacy as the only one that can bring together Democrats. To win in November, the nominee will have to expand that coalition even more. 

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Both Klobuchar and Warren have aspects of their personal and electoral history that can persuade independents in both the primary and general elections. To date, they have both encountered one question that defined their campaign to these voters. 

The results in New Hampshire shows which hand was best played.

Liam Kerr is co-founder of The Welcome Party, a political nonprofit engaging Independent voters and advocating for a big-tent Democratic Party. Their mission is to broaden democratic participation through research, analysis, and direct voter engagement.