Sheila Hosseini is going through a serious breakup this week.
It wasn’t a relationship that broke her heart, but the end of a presidential campaign — the first campaign Hosseini and many of her fellow organizers have ever felt so inspired by, the first campaign this election cycle to have opened a Madison office and the campaign that, until Thursday morning, again had voters hoping to finally see the first woman in the White House.
Hours after Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren announced she would no longer run for president, West Madison for Warren organizers gathered at the Capital Brewery to mark the close of a months-long fight over Tex-Mex snacks, one of Warren and her husband’s favorite date night foods. Hosseini, a 28-year-old substitute teacher, reminisced about an assignment she had given high school students in an American government class to do a profile on any presidential candidate.
“Elizabeth Warren was the most chosen candidate,” Hosseini said. “I obviously can’t give my opinion to students, but I was already on her side, and seeing how excited they were about her plans and how she was a woman kind of solidified it.”
After opening in January, the Madison office was Warren’s most effective in the entire country, its manager JP Thomas told a larger group Friday night. Campaign leaders said Madison organizers made more calls on Super Tuesday, which fell on March 3, than those in any other city, including Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Thomas thanked a full office for “the most exhausting, the most rewarding, the most exciting last two months of my entire life.” Though he is still processing the news, Thomas told the Cap Times he has no regrets and that “knowing that I was working for the right candidate who I actually thought would be the best president made it all worth it.”
All eyes were on Warren after Super Tuesday, when she won zero states and only 33 of 1,338 possible delegates across 14 state primaries. The Democratic primary effectively became a two-man race between Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who had previously been a clear frontrunner, and former vice president Joseph Biden, Jr., whose viability had been declared all but dead before receiving a late wave of endorsements from former candidates Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke.
Stephanie Wild was in the office that day, making nearly 245 phone calls for five hours.
As the results trickled in, Wild said, she could feel the change in energy. She sat on the couch much of Thursday and felt that something bad was coming.
“I wasn’t seeing any emails. I wasn’t getting any phone calls to come in and phone bank. I wasn’t getting any text messages to donate,” said Wild, a 44-year-old stagehand. “The silence was kind of deafening.”
Ask any Warren voter what they love about her, and the response will likely include one similarity: her plans. Name any policy problem, and an organizer — or their t-shirt, or tote bag — will confidently respond, “Warren has a plan for that.”
“She was offering these policies that I supported when I supported Bernie in 2016 in a more practical way,” said Nicole Kron, a West Madison organizer. “I really, really loved her excessive amounts of plans. She had a lot of ideas, and she knew how to break down how she wanted to do what she wanted to do.”
For Wild, it was her Medicare For All proposal, which acknowledged that universal healthcare could pave the way for union workers like herself to spend time fighting for other issues, such as higher wages. For Felix Huang, a 33-year-old real estate investor, her housing policies were the only platform he thought “really nailed the issues.”
Now, with Warren out of the race, West Madison organizer Michelle Dunphy looks forward to seeing whether anyone else will pick up on these plans. (“How could they not?” another woman responded. “They’re so ready made.”)
Other questions remain unanswered, perhaps the biggest of which is the April 7 Wisconsin primary. Though they all agree on one thing — to vote for the Democratic nominee against President Donald Trump in November — the choice between Biden and Sanders has many Warren fans feeling stuck.
Hosseini said she experienced tension with her family members, who support Sanders and continually called on Warren to drop out. Kron said she was constantly called “naive, living in a dream world” for having hope in a dwindling candidacy. Dunphy, who calls herself a “pragmatic progressive,” said the decision is not as simple as an ideological shift to the more progressive Sanders.
“I don’t think the crossover is there as much as people think it is,” Dunphy said. “The Warren constituency, the people that surrounded her and worked for her campaign, are a really special group of people that should not be taken for granted.”
As with any breakup, there has been a good amount of crying, but for now, organizers are taking time to rest and celebrate. On Friday, they paid tribute to the work they had done, taking photos with a cut-out of Warren, writing her thank you cards and signing up to continue collaborating on local campaigns, such as Dane County Judge Jill Karofsky's run for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
“One of the great things I loved about working for the Warren campaign in particular was talking with so many like-minded people who wanted the same things I want and fought for the same things that I want to fight for,” Huang said. “There were people from all different walks of life.”
After a hectic week, Wild is now ready to take a “brain break.” She looked back on a Warren rally in October 2018, when she said she felt the same thrill of watching former president Barack Obama speak for the first time. She later tattooed Warren’s adopted slogan, “Persist,” on her left forearm in her handwriting.
She voted for Sanders in the 2016 primary and remembers voting with excitement to “get to go vote for the first female president,” for Hillary Clinton in the general election. But, with Warren, it was different.
“This was the first time I really dove in with a campaign and it was just all coming from the heart,” Wild said. “She was an amazing candidate, and I think she will be again. I really want her to be our first female president.”
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