Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Cory Booker (N.J.) have become the Democratic Party’s secret weapons in some of its toughest states this cycle.
They can rally key portions of the Democratic base — women, African American and young voters — and effectively deliver the populist, progressive message that resonates with blue-collar workers in the South. Outside of President Obama, Warren and Booker are two of the party’s biggest fundraising powerhouses, able to rake in hundreds of thousands in a single event.
“You want to play into their strengths, maximize their energy and enthusiasm.”
Warren is perhaps the best messenger in the party for the populist pitch that polling has shown resonates with voters of both parties. The failure of her student loan reform bill earlier this month due to Republican opposition was used by both Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is challenges incumbent Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, and Natalie Tennant, who is vying for a Senate seat in West Virginia, to argue that Republicans are on the wrong side of pocketbook issues and aren’t committed to helping the middle class.
But with close ties to the national Democratic Party and Obama, the two senators are also potential liabilities for vulnerable Dems.
Republicans take every opportunity to tie Grimes to President Obama and what they’re calling his “War on Coal.”
Warren’s visit to the state this weekend is giving them yet another opportunity to do so, with GOP group American Crossroads issuing an ominous-sounding fundraising video that characterizes Warren as the “queen of class warfare” and “president Obama’s biggest fan.”
“Liberals unite,” reads on-screen text over pictures of Warren and Grimes. “Stop them this November.”
More specifically, Warren’s campaigning has given Republicans an opportunity to hit red-state Democratic candidates on the Obama administration’s new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on carbon emissions, which Republicans say is another salvo in his “War on Coal.”
In West Virginia, where Warren is scheduled to campaign for Tennant next month, GOP opponent Rep. Shelley Moore Capito’s (R) campaign looked to tie Warren’s support of the regulations to Tennant — even though Tennant vehemently opposes the standards.
Capito’s spokeswoman, Amy Graham, also pointed to Warren’s push for gun control as evidence of how out-of-touch she is with West Virginia — and, in turn, how out-of-touch Tennant must be too.
“She hates coal, guns and West Virginia’s way of life. Despite Natalie Tennant’s desperate attempt to take her campaign off of life support, Elizabeth Warren’s visit will only further distance Tennant from West Virginia voters,” Graham said.
And to combat the GOP attacks aligning herself and Warren on the coal issue, Tennant doubled-down in an interview, making the distinction between her agreement with Warren on economic issues and her opposition on environmental issues.
"Senator Warren and I agree that Wall Street has far too much power," Tennant told The Hill. "But I've made it very clear to her that I will stand up for West Virginia's coal industry."
She said, instead, she’ll stand with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on coal. Manchin’s reelection win, in which he aggressively distanced himself from President Obama on environmental and energy policy, is seen as a model for Tennant.
"I will stand up with Sen. Warren when it comes to lifting up the middle class and making sure our students can afford a good higher education... There are things we agree upon and things we don’t, the same with me and Sen. Manchin – the same with any other senator,” she said.
Emphasizing distance from Warren and Booker is key, strategists say, to preventing their visits from becoming unwanted drags on campaigns, and ensuring the benefits outweigh the potential drawbacks.
But Democratic strategist and former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Doug Thornell said there should be little concern about those drawbacks.
“Whatever harm there may be is outweighed by the benefits that come with their ability to raise money, attract a large crowd and also reach voters that are really turned off by Washington,” he said.
Booker and Warren are both fresh faces, in the Senate for just a few years or less. They can still effectively make the case that Washington can be changed, and Democrats are the ones to do it — a message both ran on, and won on, in their own campaigns.
And they can make that case to key Democratic constituencies. Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu needs black and young voters to turn out for her this fall, and when Booker visited the state to support her campaign, he headlined a young professionals fundraiser for her and held a roundtable discussion about education reform with her in heavily black New Orleans.
In North Carolina, where Sen. Kay Hagan (D) faces a similar predicament, Booker toured a handful of churches, some predominantly black Baptist churches.
Warren will be speaking at Louisville University this weekend, for an event on college affordability, again a pitch to young voters. And the campaigns see her as a good messenger for women, a significant voting bloc in Kentucky, West Virginia and Georgia, where she’s helped Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn as well.
Both Booker and Warren are likely to crop up more and more on the campaign trail this cycle, with Obama’s value as a surrogate declining with his approval rating. But the benefit is, for Booker and Warren, mutual.
“He genuinely cares that Democrats keep the Senate. In the states where he most needs to help, he’s going to go there to help,” said Silvia Alvarez, Booker’s spokeswoman. “But it’s also helpful for him in his work in New Jersey. These are his colleagues. He gets to develop relationships with them this way.”