Booker wins headlines campaigning for Doug Jones in Alabama race

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSteyer calls on DNC to expand polling criteria for debates Gabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch 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 SessionsA better way to run the Federal Bureau of Prisons Trump admin erases key environmental enforcement tool DOJ should take action against China's Twitter propaganda 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 KerryKentucky basketball coach praises Obama after golf round: 'He is a really serious golfer' The enemy of my enemy is my friend — an alliance that may save the Middle East Democratic governors fizzle in presidential race 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 BidenJoe BidenScaramucci attends charity event featuring Biden in the Hamptons Klobuchar knocks Trump: 'This negotiating by tweet hasn't been working' Rendell: Biden 'baked in' as Democratic nominee 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 preps conspiracy theory to explain faltering economy Sanders, Warren back major shift to fight drug overdoses Rendell: Biden 'baked in' as Democratic nominee MORE (D-Mass.) or Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump preps conspiracy theory to explain faltering economy Sanders doubles down on 'Medicare For All' defense: 'We have not changed one word' Sanders, Warren back major shift to fight drug overdoses 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 HarrisSanders doubles down on 'Medicare For All' defense: 'We have not changed one word' Obama reveals his summer playlist Democratic candidates face hard choices as 2020 field winnows 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.