Today is an important day in West Virginia in the campaign to see who will replace retiring Senator Jay Rockefeller. Republican front-runner Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito and Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant each brings a big name backer to West Virginia to campaign on her behalf.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) joins Capito for a business roundtable in Charleston, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) will campaign in the eastern panhandle for Tennant. These are big name surrogates who bring gravitas, but also baggage to the campaigns.
Warren is a liberal with populist appeal, due in part to her criticism of Wall Street and calls for financial reform. As Kevin Cirilli wrote in The Hill, “While most political watchers view Warren as more liberal than Obama, she is considered a high-profile liberal fundraiser. And Warren’s trip to West Virginia on Monday will likely highlight Capito’s financial record. Capito’s No. 2 career contributor is Citigroup, second only to Powell Construction.”
However, Warren’s liberalism is a soft spot that Capito supporters want to exploit. The National Republican Senatorial Committee charges that Warren’s agenda is counter to the interests of West Virginians. For example, she supports the EPA’s anti-coal rules and backs a carbon tax.
“We know enough to know that reducing carbon pollution from power plant emissions will make a real difference in the fight against climate change,” Warren said on the Senate floor after the EPA revealed its plan to cut emissions by 30 percent.
Congressman Paul Ryan’s visit to West Virginia highlights what the Capito campaign calls “President Obama’s job-killing policies,” as well as the country’s fiscal problems. Capito supported the Ryan budget proposal that would balance the budget by cutting federal spending by $5 trillion over ten years and revamping social programs.
But that budget (which passed the House on a strictly partisan vote 219-205 with 12 Republicans voting against it, including Rep. David McKinley from West Virginia) is a lightning rod.
In Senate races in Louisiana and Kentucky, the Democratic candidates are using their Republican opponents’ support of the Ryan budget against them. Tennant and her supporters have that same opportunity in West Virginia. Ryan’s proposal to alter Medicare by subsidizing individuals so they can buy their own insurance opens him, and anyone who voted for the budget, to criticism that he’s privatizing Medicare.
High-profile surrogates do influence campaigns. They serve as ideological billboards that spark discussion and debate about critical issues.
We often say that we want our politicians to be independent voices, but we also know that politics and policy making are about alliances. Candidates are judged not only on who they are and what they believe, but also who they associate with.
Today’s visits by Ryan and Warren will not necessarily alter November’s outcome between Capito and Tennant, but it does give voters another piece of information to help them make their decisions.