The Obama campaign tapped populist Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren to give a primetime address on the Wednesday of the Democratic National Convention, lining up just before Bill Clinton. It's a clear sign the campaign intends to sharply draw contrasts between Romney's wealth and President Obama's message of fighting for the middle class. What's unclear is whether Warren is the ideal messenger to deliver that red meat rhetoric in front of a nationally-televised audience.
She's clearly a hit with the Democratic base, as demonstrated by her record fundraising numbers and rock-star appeal with liberals. But fundraising and base enthusiasm don't necessarily translate into political support. She's locked in a neck-and-neck battle with Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., but polls show about one-quarter of Obama supporters in Massachusetts are supporting Brown -- the highest cross-over total seen in any competitive Senate race this cycle. Many of the defectors are working-class Democrats who don't naturally connect with her personally. As one senior Democratic strategist put it to me, she's struggling among the Democrats who are liberal, but don't know it.
Democrats publicly are confident about using the convention to cast Romney as an out-of-touch plutocrat, and believe Warren's background advocating for consumers makes her an ideal prosecutor. But it's worth remembering that Obama's biggest recent campaign blunder was when he downplayed the individual efforts of entrepreneurs, in ad-libbed remarks in Roanoke, Virginia. It was his watered down version of Warren's view of the free market, remarks that went viral last year.
In a best-case scenario for Democrats, Warren could emerge as a hit among the Walmart moms, that oft-cited demographic that could be decisive in a close election. In a worst-case scenario, sounding too hard-edged could risk a Democratic version of Pat Buchanan's infamous 1992 convention speech, where he argued there was "a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America." It was a hit in certain conservative circles, but a total flop with the average voter.