Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign opened its first Pennsylvania field office Thursday, far earlier than most of her rivals and a sign she sees the 153 delegates available in the state’s late April Democratic primary as a potentially coveted prize.

The investment is also a nod to the growing grassroots campaign Warren has in Philadelphia. Now, that network of political activists and operatives will have a home base in the Cedar Park neighborhood of West Philadelphia.

“We have an amazing grassroots network that is active in Pennsylvania right now,” said Anne Wakabayashi, Warren’s newly hired Pennsylvania state director and a former member of Philly for Warren. “The movement is already happening on the ground.”

Anne Wakabayashi, Sen. Warren's newly hired Pennsylvania state director, and Rachel Tait (right), Pennsylvania campaign mobilization hub manager, greet supporters arriving for the opening.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Anne Wakabayashi, Sen. Warren's newly hired Pennsylvania state director, and Rachel Tait (right), Pennsylvania campaign mobilization hub manager, greet supporters arriving for the opening.

The campaign’s investment in a state that doesn’t hold its primary for more than three months suggests a belief that Pennsylvania will still be relevant after the early nominating contests — and that Warren will still be in the fight. Warren doesn’t poll as well in Pennsylvania as former Vice President Joe Biden, who has roots in Scranton and his national headquarters in Philadelphia, but she has a contingent of Democratic supporters in the city, including Mayor Jim Kenney, District Attorney Larry Krasner, and City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier.

All three attended the opening of the campaign office in the 500 block of South 52nd Street on Thursday.

Kenney, who said he’s headed to New Hampshire to stump for Warren in a few weeks, commended the office’s location on the 52nd Street corridor of West Philadelphia. “I think the location you picked is absolutely fabulous," he said. “I just think it’s the right people to go after.”

Kenney said some people seemed “shocked" when he endorsed the Massachusetts senator.

“I guess people expected it to be Biden because I’m an old white guy,” the mayor said. “But there’s just something about her that shows strength and fearlessness. … She just has the tenacity to kick [Trump’s] ass."

Increased turnout in Philadelphia can help win the state for Warren, Krasner said. “Make no mistake, this city all by itself has the capacity to change the outcome of this next election," he said, "not just in the primary but in the general election.”

The office will host phone banks seven days a week, targeting the early voting states.

Wakabayashi, who has spent her career working in Pennsylvania politics, is originally from San Diego. She is the former executive director of Emerge Pennsylvania, a group that works to recruit women to run for elected office and a past board member of the Liberty City Democratic Club, Philadelphia’s LGBT political organization.

She also worked on Councilman Allan Domb’s race for Philadelphia City Council and at the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Campaign Committee. She led Superior Court Judge Anne Lazarus’ failed campaign in the Democratic primary for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court against Justice Kevin Dougherty.

“What really drew me to [Warren’s] campaign was that she gets what the impact of corruption and business interests do to politics, and that’s something I saw at the state and local level with women and queer folks trying to get into politics,” Wakabayashi said. “I saw it as a real continuation of work diversifying elected officials in Pennsylvania.”

Warren trails Biden in polls of likely Pennsylvania voters by an average of about 10 points. She has made only a handful of appearances in the state thus far, including a visit to Philadelphia in March to talk to the American Federation of Teachers. Warren brought in about as much from Pennsylvania donors ($301,836) as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the last quarter. Both trailed Biden, who got $453,783 from Pennsylvanians.

Warren does well with younger, more educated and more progressive voters — a demographic reflected in Philadelphia and its suburbs — but she trails in rural working-class areas.

Wakabayashi, who previously worked on races in Berks County, said she thinks Warren can win across the state.

“We have a big, complex state here and so many of her plans address the things we’re seeing," she said. "I think as we talk to more and more folks, the more you’re going to see folks connecting with what she’s saying.”

The Philly for Warren group has already organized canvassing and phone banking locally and a contingent will travel to New Hampshire this weekend to campaign for her. The group that started with a single debate watch party in June now holds up to half a dozen around the city for the monthly Democratic primary debates, and it has organizers leading efforts in designated neighborhoods.

Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sanders also have active volunteer groups in the city and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg opened a field office in Philadelphia last month.