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Booker wins headlines campaigning for Doug Jones in Alabama race

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee Senate rejects centrist immigration bill after Trump veto threat Sen. Gillibrand, eyeing 2020 bid, rankles some Democrats MORE (D) is generating headlines with his last-minute trip to Alabama on behalf of Democrat Doug Jones, an effort that could pay dividends if the New Jersey senator runs for the White House in 2020.

Booker has traveled to Alabama to help Jones turn out the black vote ahead of Tuesday’s special election for the Senate seat formerly held by Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsUnder pressure, Trump shifts blame for Russia intrusion Overnight Tech: Judge blocks AT&T request for DOJ communications | Facebook VP apologizes for tweets about Mueller probe | Tech wants Treasury to fight EU tax proposal Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand MORE.

Getting African-Americans to the polls is critical to Jones’s hopes of pulling out an upset victory, and it’s an opportunity for Booker to show he can deliver with an important part of the Democratic base.

It’s also a chance for Booker to step back into the political spotlight in a year in which he’s seen as having faded in comparison to other rising Democratic stars who might also be looking ahead to 2020.

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“It puts Booker on a big stage in a big fight,” said David Wade, a Democratic strategist who previously served as chief of staff to John KerryJohn Forbes Kerry2020 Dem contenders travel to key primary states When it comes to Colombia, America is in a tough spot 36 people who could challenge Trump in 2020 MORE.

“The price of entry of being a party leader is helping in tough long-shot races like this one, and that pays off down the line with influential party activists who a young rising star like Sen. Booker will want to connect with for a long time,” Wade said. “Showing up to help on races where it’s tough also helps shed the image of selfishness that can adhere to ambitious people in politics.”

Ross Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University, said getting involved in Alabama is a “no-lose proposition” for Booker.

“The expectations are fairly low,” Baker said. “If Jones won, it would be a big, big feather in Booker’s cap. If he loses, Booker can say he did something no other senator did.”

“He decided it was worth the risk,” Baker added. “I think in terms of aspirations, it was money in the bank. It certainly doesn’t hurt him in New Jersey, where Judge Moore isn’t a popular figure.”

Booker spent the morning on Sunday visiting churches alongside Jones, with the two men even pausing to take a picture, which the New Jersey senator and Twitter fixture inevitably put on social media. 

“So grateful for the rousing greeting we are receiving at every church,” he wrote on Twitter to his nearly 3.6 million followers. “The energy is so uplifting.”

Later, Booker appeared alongside Jones at a campaign rally in Birmingham where he was met with “Booker 2020” chants. 

At the event, a reporter wondered why he made the Alabama race a priority, and the senator highlighted his roots in the state.

“My family were coal miners in the state of Alabama,” he said. “I owe a debt to Alabamans, and I can’t pay it back — those generations have passed — but I can pay it forward.

“I’m here to try to let folks know how special this community is, how special this state is.” 

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), a 2020 favorite of many in former President Obama’s orbit, also appeared with Jones on Sunday, leading some to believe he’s keeping the door to a White House bid open.

“Campaigning for Jones could be an act of personal passion or political water testing,” said Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons. “Either way, Patrick just put a placeholder on the table.”

Booker and Patrick are unique in that they’re on the ground fighting for Jones in the final days of the campaign. (Former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenDems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee Trump: Why didn't Obama 'do something about Russian meddling?' 2020 Dem contenders travel to key primary states MORE campaigned for Jones earlier in the fall.) 

Other potential 2020 candidates have been noticeably absent — which could be by design. It’s not entirely clear that campaigning with liberal stars such as Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTrump's SEC may negate investors' ability to fight securities fraud Schatz's ignorance of our Anglo-American legal heritage illustrates problem with government Dems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee MORE (D-Mass.) or Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersDems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee 2020 Dem contenders travel to key primary states After Florida school shooting, vows for change but no clear path forward MORE (I-Vt.) would pay off for Jones in deeply conservative Alabama, where a Democratic candidate hasn’t won a Senate race since 1992.

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisCongress fails miserably: For Asian-Americans, immigration proposals are personal attacks American women will decide who wins and loses in 2018 elections Dems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee MORE (D-Calif.), who has been mentioned as a 2020 contender, was hoping to campaign for Jones but had a scheduling conflict, according to an aide. 

An aide confirmed that Harris, however, did headline a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee event for the Alabama Democrat and raked in approximately $170,000 for him online. She also was a part of a MoveOn.org effort, which helped raise more than $200,000 for the candidate. 

Even if Moore does win the race on Tuesday, Wade said the headlines about Booker traveling to Alabama to campaign could help him stand out in what’s expected to be a crowded Democratic field in 2020.

“People will remember that he was baggage-free enough that he could be invited into one of the most conservative states in the country as a surrogate,” Wade said, adding that very few others could make that claim.

—Updated at 9:00 a.m.

Ben Kamisar contributed reporting from Alabama.