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Briefings: Neal Backs up Warren Days before Super Tuesday…

Rep Neal with then-not-yet-Senator Warren and then-Sheriff Ashe in 2012. (WMP&I)

United States Senator Elizabeth Warren got a local boost in her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination Friday night. Springfield Congressman and House Ways & Means Chair Richard Neal formally backed Warren days before Massachusetts and several other states vote on Super Tuesday.

News of the nod came even as Vermont’s Bernie Sander, a Senate colleague of Warren’s, was campaigning in Springfield in an apparent effort to nudge her out of the race. Ostensibly, Sanders & Co. are banking a less-than-first place finish in Massachusetts would chase Warren out of the race. Neal’s endorsement has the potential to make that less likely.

It is a mistake to overstate political machines in Western Massachusetts cities, including in Springfield. They exist today mostly as a metaphor for the power dynamics within a community. However, Neal is probably the last politician in Springfield standing atop anything close to a political apparatus of old. It has helped him in his primaries, it was a basis—but not the sole component of—Warren’s Senate win in 2012, and it contributed to Hillary Clinton’s triumph the commonwealth’s squeaker of a primary in 2016.

Before his endorsement, some of this vote may have simply abstained. Many voters may have just gone their own way and many of those still will.

In Hampden County, where Neal’s political base permeates into the ‘burbs from Springfield, many voters turned off by Warren may not have considered Sanders either. Rather, these voters are looking to Warren’s right like to former Vice-President Joe Biden and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Some may now consider Warren, to the detriment of not just Sanders.

“Elizabeth Warren is the best candidate to take on Donald Trump on the economy,” Neal said in a press release from Warren’s campaign.

For Warren. (WMassP&I)

Neal cited Warren’s life’s work investigating what was holding people back and leaving them behind. In addition, he cited her creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and her efforts to cancel predatory student loans in the 413.

“Her record of fighting and winning real results makes her the real deal and the right choice for Massachusetts voters on Tuesday,” Neal continued.

The congressman’s endorsement was first reported by Politico.

Neal was one of the four Massachusetts members of Congress to have not endorsed Warren by now. South Boston Rep Stephen Lynch and Salem Rep Seth Moulton have endorsed Biden. Bourne Congressman Bill Keating has not endorsed anybody.

Why Neal waited to come out for her has been the subject of speculation, but the endorsement timing probably reflected some realities. Warren may not have benefited from Neal’s backing the beginning, given his reputation on the left for being insufficiently progressive. Later on, as talk of a primary challenger bubbled up and later materialized in Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse—who did endorse Warren—a sudden Warren endorsement may have looked opportunistic for him.

Announcing Friday avoids both problems. The contest is well underway. Neal’s backing will likely appear only in that context rather than his in own primary. Meanwhile, Warren’s staunchest supporters are locked in and won’t bail over Neal’s support. It could be that this timeline was always the plan.

It is also possible that Neal was just helping an ally in a moment of need. Sanders clearly saw an opportunity—or need—to hit Warren at home. Ultimately, if Warren is on track to lose her own home state as a recent WBUR poll indicated, Neal’s endorsement may be too late. But the boost in Greater Springfield cannot hurt.