Elizabeth Warren went to West Virginia to campaign for Senate candidate Natalie Tennant on Monday. Republicans could barely contain their joy at this development. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, the Republican Senate nominee, put out a statement blasting Tennant's ties to the "ultra liberal" Warren. The National Republican Senatorial Committee described Warren as "one of the most liberal and extreme senators in Washington."
While there's no question that bringing Warren into a Republican-leaning state like West Virginia was a gamble for Tennant, there are at least four reasons why it's a smart one.
1. Tennant needs every Democratic base voter to turn out on Nov. 4. Warren, as WaPo's Bob Costa noted in his story on her visit, is a rock star to the liberal base of the party. No one -- not even Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton -- fires up the base like the Massachusetts Senator can. Tennant, who currently serves as the Secretary of State, needs that base very fired up -- and turning out -- to stay within shouting distance of Capito. A visit from Warren certainly helps.
2. Tennant needs the money. West Virginia is not the most expensive state in which to run a campaign -- although you do need to buy in the Washington, D.C. media market to reach the state's panhandle. But, Capito, as a sitting member of Congress who has been prepping for this race for years, has a financial edge over Tennant; Capito had $5 million on hand as of the end of June while Tennant had $1.5 million.
3. Warren's economic populist message is a nice fit for the state. Yes, Warren is more liberal than the average West Virginian. And, her views on coal are not in line with most residents in the state. But, on economic inequality -- the issue with which she is most closely associated -- Warren is likely standing right with most West Virginians. (West Virginia was the third poorest state in 2013.) “Our job is to fight for the families of America,” Warren said at the Tennant event. “Stitch up the tax loopholes so that millionaires and billionaires pay at the same tax rate as the people in this room.” That's a message that can work in West Virginia.
4. The event was in the Panhandle. West Virginia has moved heavily toward Republicans over the past decade or so. But, the entire state is not solidly Republican. The eastern Panhandle, which includes the town of Shepherdstown where the event was held, probably has more in common with Washington, D.C. than Charleston, West Virginia. (It's 70 miles to drive from DC to Shepherdstown; it's 306 miles to drive from Charleston to Shepherdstown.) While the event got coverage statewide, the epicenter of attention was in an area where having a national Democratic figure like Warren in to stump for you is not such a bad thing.)
None of the above means Tennant is going to win. She's a long shot. And long shots need to take risks. This one makes political sense.