Warren fills void for Democrats as Hillary Clinton stays on the sidelines

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has emerged as one of the top fundraisers for Senate Democratic candidates in the midterm election campaign, filling a void left by the absence of Hillary Clinton.

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Warren, who was elected to her first term in 2012, has already raised more than $2.3 million for Senate Democratic candidates this election cycle, according to her staff. She has also transferred $100,000 from her campaign account to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).

“She’s the biggest draw so far,” said a Senate Democratic campaign aide, referring to Warren’s knack for getting donors to open up their checkbooks.

A senior Senate Democratic aide agreed with that assessment.

Clinton is one of the few Democrats who can match Warren’s ability to excite the party base, but she has stayed on the sidelines while focusing on a memoir that is due out in June. Last year, Clinton campaigned only for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D).

Warren, by contrast, has given more than $180,000 to Senate Democratic candidates and colleagues through her leadership political action committee, PAC for a Level Playing Field, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

The recipients of her largess include vulnerable incumbents Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who each received contributions totaling $10,000.

“She’s stepping into a vacuum, which politics abhors,” said Peter Ubertaccio, a political science professor at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass. “Clinton is the leading woman in her party. Warren is someone who is competing for that role.”

“Warren has become a much greater factor in the Democratic Party than anyone could have foreseen just a couple of years ago,” he added.

Democratic donors in the Boston area, a major fundraising hub, take their cues from Warren on which candidates to support.

“I went to a fundraiser for Sen. [John] Walsh [(D-Mont.)] and it was very clear from the hosts that even though she wasn’t there, her name was invoked several times as being a person who was being supportive of Sen. Walsh and wanted us all of us to be supportive of Sen. Walsh,” said Scott Ferson, a Boston-based Democratic strategist. “So she’s been a very effective gatekeeper of the Boston money.”

Warren insists she is not planning to run for president — despite the release next week of a new memoir that is fueling new speculation about her 2016 plans.

Nonetheless, she is collecting political chits that will accentuate her influence in the Senate Democratic Caucus in the next Congress and beyond.

Democratic strategists and political experts say Warren’s growing clout could shift the caucus to the left, especially on economic and financial regulatory issues.

“Ted Kennedy was able to lead his party on a lot of issues and Elizabeth Warren has that potential,” Ferson said. “She’s not at a point where she’s able to drive the Democratic debate on legislation, but she will be after this cycle.”

Warren has sent out several fundraising emails on behalf of Democratic candidates. In one recent email, donors were offered the chance to participate in a contest to have lunch with her if they gave to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-N.H.) campaign by a certain deadline. 

A Shaheen spokesman said Warren has been very helpful, particularly with online fundraising.

Warren has used her swelling national profile to steer funds to fellow women senators running in conservative-leaning states such as North Carolina and Louisiana.

She warned in an email to potential donors that Democrats would have a very difficult time keeping control of the upper chamber if Landrieu, Kay Hagan and Shaheen lost in November.

She touted their votes for legislation to expand background checks for gun purchases, an issue the candidates themselves might not play so prominently back home.

Warren praised them for taking “tough votes to make sure another tragedy like Sandy Hook doesn’t happen again.”

An email she sent to donors before the Dec. 31 filing deadline urged them to give to Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Pryor and Shaheen.

“Mark's opponent is a Tea Party darling who wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, privatize Social Security, and turn Medicare into a voucher program,” she wrote in reference to Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).

A spokeswoman for Warren said she is focused on keeping Democrats in the Senate majority.

"Sen. Warren is working to support 2014 candidates because she believes it is critical for Democrats to maintain control of the Senate," said Lacey Rose.

Other leading Democrats are also contributing heavily to the cause.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has given $235,000 directly to Senate Democratic candidates this cycle through his leadership PAC, the Searchlight Leadership Fund, according to FEC records.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has given more than $1 million to the DSCC, according to a campaign spokesman.

Democratic strategists say Warren’s contributions are impressive for a freshman lawmaker. They note her presence on the campaign trail is crucial to the Democratic campaign strategy, which is built around appealing to women voters.

“The kind of money she can draw in is critical in states like that,” said David Paleologos, the director of the political research center at Suffolk University in Boston. “If Democrats win in those states they’ll certainly feel a need to reciprocate.”

A Democratic aide noted that Bill Clinton has also helped Democratic candidates. He raised $1 million in a weekend of fundraisers for Pryor in March of last year and helped raise $700,000 for candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky in February.  

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