Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The Elizabeth Warren Paradigm

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sec. of State Alison Lundergan
Grimes (D-KY)
After following American politics for over twenty years (I was a precocious grade-schooler), it takes a lot to surprise me, but last week I got a surprise in Kentucky.  Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is running in one of the tightest races in the country against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.  Part of her problem, in fact her biggest problem, is the fact that she is running in a deep red state that doesn’t like President Obama at all.  Lundergan Grimes wouldn’t be caught within 100 miles of President Obama on the campaign trail, and you can bet anything that Obama isn’t going to set foot in the Bluegrass State between now and November in hopes that Lundergran Grimes can make that distinction and win the seat.

And yet, on June 29th, Lundergan Grimes had an equally puzzling partner on the campaign trail: Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.  Lundergan Grimes has been campaigning with Bill Clinton (a popular former president with a similar twang to Lundergan Grimes on the campaign trail), and I wouldn’t have been stunned to see Warren (a powerhouse fundraiser) giving money to Lundergan Grimes, but out in the open campaigning?  With the press right there?  How is this possible?

Elizabeth Warren is one of the most liberal senators in the country, and has an environmental record and track record of support for President Obama that would make Republicans in Kentucky giddy, so what was the benefit of Lundergan Grimes going out on the campaign trail with her?  This isn’t Bill Clinton, where the liberal views can be masked by a southern accent and legendary retail politicking skills (not to mention the fact that he did win Kentucky when he ran for president…twice).  Elizabeth Warren is a Massachusetts senator, has fairly low name recognition outside of political and liberal circles, and has a voting record that Lundergan Grimes would like to avoid like the plague.

And yet this isn’t a risk that Lundergan Grimes is only taking.  Warren will be out of the trail later this month for Natalie Tennant in West Virginia and has backed Rick Weiland in South Dakota, Michelle Nunn in Georgia, and Mark Pryor in Arkansas.  In fact, while she hasn’t been on the trail for all of them, Elizabeth Warren has donated to 28 candidates this year, including every one of her vulnerable colleagues.

The fascinating thing about this campaigning is that Warren has been able to do something almost no one else has been able to do while campaigning: create nuance.  While if President Obama or Mitt Romney get out on the trail for a Republican or Democrat it is politically toxic if the demographics of that area didn’t vote for them for President, Warren has smartly made distinctions between her voting record and those of Lundergan Grimes.  When campaigning for Natalie Tennant, Warren’s campaign issued this statement, “Natalie and I don’t agree on every issue.  For example, she has made clear to me that she will fight against EPA regulations that I support if she believes it means protecting coal jobs in West Virginia.”

That is probably one of the most well-worded explanations I’ve seen in a while in politics-succinct, and complimentary to both Warren (who gets to keep her liberal credentials in the Bay State and potentially with 2016 primary voters) and Tennant (who gets to look bipartisan and still gain the endorsement of both coal miners and Warren).  The Republicans have attacked, but the retorts from Tennant and Lundergan Grimes are hard to argue with, particularly since Warren’s message she’s championing on the campaign trail is extremely popular with their constituencies.

That message is the anti-Wall Street, pro-regulation campaign that Warren has become known for, gaining the title of consumer advocate at a time when that title couldn’t be more popular with middle and lower income voters.  Warren has credentials that are unimpeachable when it comes to being an advocate for economic populism, and in particular her work on behalf of people with student loans plays extremely well across middle America. Her student loan bill (which would have provided interest rate relief in exchange for closing tax loopholes on higher earners) died in a filibuster, but is the sort of bill that Democrats in Arkansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Louisiana can support without any repercussions from their base or swing voters-in fact it attracts them in equal measure.

There’s also something else to consider with Warren and her unparalleled support for Democrats in 2014.  After six years with Barack Obama being largely in the background when Democrats desperately needed him on the campaign trail (I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times, but Shelley Berkley would be a senator now if the President cared more about helping his party), Warren is proving to be a team player that the Democrats have been desperately lacking, and this is something that Hillary Clinton should be extremely worried about, far more than the missteps in her book tour.  While Bill has been a strong advocate on the campaign trail, he’s been extremely choosy (frequently only supporting Hillary 2008 endorsers), and Hillary herself has been resistant to get out on the campaign trail.  Contrast that to Warren, who is not only out on the campaign trail, but is indiscriminately doing so (Natalie Tennant has no shot at winning and yet Warren is out fighting the good fight-can you imagine a Clinton spending time on such a candidate?) and you see someone who is endearing  herself not just to future colleagues, but to future superdelegates.  Elizabeth Warren vehemently denies that she wants to run for President, but she’s sure doing everything she can to look like a great candidate.

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