For Democrats and Republicans alike, the arrival of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren in Kentucky this weekend to campaign for Alison Lundergan Grimes was a golden political opportunity.
For Grimes, who is challenging incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell for his seat in November, Warren’s support injects some much-needed star power into a campaign that has struggled to gain escape velocity in the polls.
For McConnell, the visit by Warren – considered one of the most liberal lawmakers in the Senate – represents an opportunity to align Grimes once again with unpopular Democratic figures. McConnell’s team has been attempting to paint the Kentucky secretary of state as a staunch Barack Obama supporter, whose alleged “war on coal” has become a wedge issue in the campaign.
Grimes was joined by Warren as she unveiled her college affordability plan Sunday to students at a rally at Louisville College in Kentucky. With Warren at her side, Grimes laid out how she would make college more affordable for Kentucky students, including a proposal to help tackle student loan debt. Grimes’s plan – modeled after Warren’s own student loan proposal, which was killed in the Senate earlier this month by a 56-38 vote – proposes allowing students to borrow at the same low rate that big banks receive from the federal government.
Warren’s decision to campaign for Grimes was partially sparked by Republicans in the Senate rejecting her legislation.
“One way I’m going to start fighting back is I’m going to go down to Kentucky and I’m going to campaign for Alison Lundergan Grimes,” Warren told msnbc’s Chris Hayes at the time. “She’s tough, she’s feisty, she endorsed the student loan bill …. So my view is I’m going to get out there and try to make this happen for her.”
The McConnell campaign reminded its followers on Twitter of the senator’s arrival in the bluegrass state (linking to a page with the words “Grimes” and “war” in its URL, no less).
McConnell will likely use the same argument against Grimes’s plan as he did against Warren’s: that it won’t actually help students who are in debt. “The Senate Democrats’ bill really isn’t about students at all, it’s really all about Senate Democrats, because Senate Democrats don’t actually want a solution for their students, they want an issue to campaign on to save their own hides this November,” McConnell said on the Senate floor earlier this month.
For Grimes, the challenge remains to gain momentum in the polls by aligning herself with Warren’s economic populism, which holds widespread appeal among Democrats, while distancing herself from some of Warren’s more liberal stances on regulation and the environment. Grimes, running as a Democrat in an historically red state, has previously sought to establish herself as an independent reformer willing to take on “the people at the top in both political parties.”