Big crowds stir talk of momentum for Warren

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Bloomberg, Patrick take different approaches after late entries into primary race Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne MORE is making waves with the big crowds that she’s attracting to campaign events across the country. 

The Massachusetts Democrat drew 15,000 people to a presidential campaign event in Seattle on Aug. 25 and 12,000 to an event at Macalester College in St. Paul — her first campaign event in Minnesota — on Aug. 19. 

The crowds have drawn attention to her campaign from Democrats and other members of the media, who see it as a sign she might be gaining momentum in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination.

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A former aide to President Obama, who also drew big crowds during his first campaign for the White House, marveled at the size of Warren’s crowds at this stage of the race. 

“What Warren is doing this early on is pretty unprecedented,” the aide said, adding that Obama’s events didn’t attract thousands of people until well into the primary cycle. 

“If we would have attracted crowd sizes that large early on, Hillary would have run for the hills,” the aide said, referring to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy 'Too Far Left' hashtag trends on Twitter Resistance or unhinged behavior? Partisan hatred reaches Trump's family MORE, whom Obama beat out in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary.

Polls don’t show Warren running away with the nominating contest. 

Nationally, she trailed front-runner Joe BidenJoe BidenBudget official says he didn't know why military aid was delayed: report Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide READ: Foreign service officer Jennifer Williams' closed-door testimony from the House impeachment inquiry MORE by double-digits in two national polls released on Wednesday. She was ahead of Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSinger Neil Young says that America's presidents haven't done enough address climate change New poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide MORE (I-Vt.) in those two polls, though she has trailed him in some other recent national surveys.

But the big crowds could be a sign that Warren is building toward something. 

“It shows growing enthusiasm. People want to see and hear her,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale. “Crowd size in August isn't going to decide the race, but it certainly helps.” 

Warren isn’t the only candidate who can draw a crowd. 

Sanders drew huge audiences during his 2016 presidential run, and the trend has continued in this cycle. 

In March, Sanders aides say they drew 16,000 supporters to a rally in San Francisco, the Vermont senator’s biggest crowd so far. 

They also drew 15,124 people to a rally in Los Angeles that same month. Rallies in New York and Chicago, also in March, drew more than 13,000 and 12,000 respectively, the Sanders campaign said. 

“There is an incredible level of enthusiasm for Sen. Sanders in states all across the country,” Faiz Shakir, Sanders's campaign manager, said in an email to The Hill. “It is telling that not only does Sen. Sanders attract energetic crowds but that these events are filled with people who are deeply engaged in the political process and the future of our country, often for the first time.”

Democrats historically have warmed to the candidate who can attract the crowds. 

Obama in 2008 and Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonPrince Andrew says he regrets staying with Jeffrey Epstein Now for your moment of Zen from the Trump impeachment hearings The Hill's Morning Report — Public impeachment drama resumes today MORE in 1992 are two examples of Democratic candidates whose crowds foreshadowed victories. 

Strategists say drawing a crowd is also important in the Trump era given the president’s obsession with the subject. 

On Tuesday, President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election MORE belittled Warren’s crowds, saying his were “far bigger” and complaining that they “get no coverage at all.”

Biden has been the steady leader in the Democratic race, but he doesn’t appear to be drawing big crowds. 

At an event in Keene, N.H., over the weekend, Biden addressed a crowd of approximately 300 people. The former vice president’s largest crowd to date was his May kick-off event in Philadelphia, which drew an estimated 6,000 supporters. 

“His ground game doesn’t seem to be as good,” said another former Obama aide, who remains undecided in the Democratic primary. “Could he pull off 15,000 people in Washington state organically? It doesn’t seem that way.” 

Drawing a big crowd in Iowa might be more important than drawing a big crowd in Seattle. 

And none of the big three candidates appear to be pulling particularly large crowds in any of the early-voting states. 

Warren’s largest crowd in an early state, for example, was approximately 1,100 earlier this month in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Several weeks ago, she also spoke to a crowd of approximately 925 in Aiken, S.C., and 700 in Franconia, N.H.

“At this point, I'd look closer at whether these campaigns can pull 500 people in Oscaloosa, Iowa — population 11,000 — than 16,000 people in San Francisco, population 850,000,” the second former Obama aide said. 

Doug Landry, who served as trip director to Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Senators press FDA tobacco chief on status of vaping ban Progressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising MORE as part of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, noted that crowd size “doesn’t always translate to support at the ballot box.” 

When he served as an advance staffer on Clinton’s presidential campaigns, Landry said, “we had to work a lot harder to convince people to actually make the effort to come out to see her. 

Since Clinton had already been a public figure on the national stage, “voters felt like they already knew her.” 

He said that could be a problem for Biden. 

“When you're in the news for a quarter century, it's hard to get people to come out to ‘learn about this new candidate’ — and I think that's the same dynamic at work for Joe Biden's solid but not huge crowds since he's been in public life for even longer,” Landry said.

Lynda Tran, a Democratic strategist who served as the national press secretary for Organizing for America, cautioned that campaigns design different types of events to suit particular needs. 

“So size is definitely not everything when it comes to measuring success,” Tran said. 

But, she added, “from an organizers perspective, you always hope for a great turnout.”

“The optics of a capacity or overcapacity crowd make fantastic headlines that boost voter and donor interest, shore up staff and volunteer morale, and feed into an overall narrative about campaign momentum,” she said.

CORRECTION: Warren polled higher than Sanders in two polls released this week by Quinnipiac and USA Today/Suffolk. An earlier version misstated her place in those polls due to an editing error.