HARRISBURG, Pa. — Elizabeth Warren’s campaign is moving to become the first in the Democratic presidential primary to hire field staff and open field offices in Pennsylvania, early moves in a late primary state that could be an important prize if the nominee remains in doubt past March.
Warren’s campaign said it has hired a Pennsylvania campaign strategist to start next week and will bring on organizing staff and open a field office in Philadelphia in the coming weeks.
Democratic strategists in the state characterized the moves as aggressive, considering that top field staff from the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama primary race in 2008 recall getting hired no earlier than February or March.
They also saw the moves as the Massachusetts senator challenging former Vice President Joe Biden on friendly territory for him and an effort to narrow Biden’s built-in advantages in Pennsylvania.
“People recognize that he starts off from a strong position here in Pennsylvania,” said Mike Mikus, a Pittsburgh-based Democratic campaign strategist who is not affiliated with a presidential campaign.
Biden has his campaign headquarters in Philadelphia and deep political inroads in Pennsylvania after living for decades just across the border in Wilmington, Delaware, as that state’s longtime senator.
Biden, who spent part of his boyhood in Scranton, used Pennsylvania as a backdrop to announce the start of his campaign. He has the endorsement of several of the state’s members of Congress, including Sen. Bob Casey.
He is a regular at Pittsburgh’s Labor Day parade and he has campaigned for many Democratic candidates over the years.
“The list is long,” Mikus said.
The nation’s fifth-most populous state, Pennsylvania has the fifth-most delegates in the Democratic primary. It’s primary is April 28, the same day as New York’s Democratic primary, six weeks after primaries in Florida and Illinois and eight weeks after primaries in California and Texas.
The Warren campaign said it hired Anne Wakabayashi, the chair of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s Commission on LGBTQ Affairs who is a veteran of Emerge Pennsylvania and the state Senate Democratic Campaign Committee.
Warren may have to make up ground on other candidates in Pennsylvania, as well.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has made several visits to the state this year and built a volunteer network in his first campaign in 2016. The campaign of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, meanwhile, is running TV ads in the Philadelphia market.
The Democrats’ crowded primary field is a motivator for candidates to get a campaign up and running in Pennsylvania earlier than usual, some strategists said.
U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pennsylvania, a Biden supporter, said such a crowded field could mean Pennsylvania plays a decisive role.
“After March 17, there’s no big date on the calendar until you get to Pennsylvania on April 28, and so that could prove to be when the nomination is effectively decided, and I think that matches up perfectly for Joe Biden,” Boyle said.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat who also supports Biden, said he doesn’t foresee much activity in Pennsylvania before the so-called Super Tuesday primary on March 3. After that, campaigns will start thinking about the state, he said.
By the time April 28 rolls around, Rendell said, he expects no candidate will have 50% of the delegates, assuming Warren, Biden and Sanders all remain in the race. As a result, Pennsylvania will be of the utmost importance, he said.
“It will be like 2008, when the eyes of the world were on us,” Rendell said.