Warren, Ryan Trade Barbs in West Virginia War of Words

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — Natalie Tennant and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have their differences, no question about it. From Obamacare to the Environmental Protection Agency, in fact, the West Virginia secretary of state and Massachusetts senator are about as far apart as two Democrats can get.

But the two had nothing but love for one another at a campaign rally inside the Rockefeller Ballroom at the Clarion Hotel here on Monday afternoon. Warren, a rising star in the Democratic Party, came to this Eastern Panhandle community to campaign for Tennant, who is seeking the Senate seat of the ballroom’s namesake, retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). Tennant faces Republican Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, who represents West Virginia’s 2nd District, in the November election.

In The Spotlight

As Warren appeared for Tennant on Monday, another nationally known politician, U.S. Rep Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), was stumping for Capito a little more than 300 miles to the southwest, in the state capital, Charleston. The 2012 Republican nominee for vice president and House Budget Committee chairman appeared with Capito at a forum for business leaders.

The cameos by Ryan and Warren, both of whom have been mentioned as presidential contenders for 2016 (though the latter has said she’s not interested), had West Virginia front-and-center on the national political scene, for a day at least. The two visitors also had one another in their crosshairs.

“Shelley needs to win this Senate race so that we can keep the philosophy that Elizabeth Warren is trying to push on the country at bay,” Ryan told a local news program before the Charleston event.

Not to be outdone, Warren took Republicans, including Capito and Ryan, to task for an agenda that she says makes the rich richer at the expense of the middle class, the working poor — and college students facing tens of thousands of dollars in debt. The student loan issue has been a pet cause of Warren’s since her election two years ago.

Pocketbook Issues

Warren and Tennant touched on populist themes during Monday’s event — the minimum wage, Medicare and Social Security, student loans and banking reform, among others. The emphasis on pocketbook issues is a strategy the Tennant camp hopes will win over blue collar and middle class West Virginians, many of whom have turned West Virginia from a reliably blue state to one where the GOP has made strong gains in recent years.

Tennant trails Capito by about 10 points in most recent polls. And she lags behind in fundraising as well, with about $1.5 million in cash on hand compared to Capito’s $5 million. The Tennant campaign is counting on the appearance of Warren, a bona fide political star who has stumped for other Democrats across the country in recent weeks, to help rally the base and energize Democrats throughout the state.

An ‘Independent Voice’

Despite the polls and fundraising gap, an enthusiastic, standing-room-only crowd of more than 400 stood and cheered as Warren and Tennant took the stage.

Warren slammed Republicans for their positions on everything from health care to the minimum wage.

“The way I see this, Citibank and Goldman Sachs and all those other guys on Wall Street, they’ve got plenty of folks in the U.S. Senate willing to work on their side,” Warren told the ballroom crowd. “We need more people willing to work on the side of American families.”

She called Tennant a “fighter” for the middle class, and an “independent, strong voice” for West Virginia.

Warren’s mention of the two banks was no accident. Citigroup, the parent company of Citibank, and Goldman Sachs, are two of Capito’s top political contributors. Tennant has tried to make Capito’s ties to Wall Street a key issue in the campaign, hoping it will resonate with voters still struggling to recover from the financial crisis six years ago.

Warren said Capito is too cozy with the banking industry.

“I … have seen Congresswoman Capito in action on the House Financial Services Committee, and time and again I have watched her side with powerful financial interests over working people,” she said.

Differences Highlighted

Tennant praised Warren’s legislation to lower interest rates on student loans, a measure Senate Republicans successfully blocked last month.

Tennant told the crowd that she and Warren will work together to “create a future where our children can work hard, raise their families and achieve the American Dream right here in West Virginia.”

Warren, who was introduced by a law student who says she expects to rack up $100,000 in debt by the time she graduates, said Congress could “stitch up the tax loopholes” exploited by the rich, and use the savings to refinance student loans. But, she said, that’s an initiative Ryan, Capito and others in the GOP won’t get behind.

Tennant’s campaign also has played up Capito’s support of Ryan’s controversial budget proposals, particularly provisions that Democrats say would threaten social programs such as Medicare and Social Security, and cut safety programs for miners.

Capito’s camp says Tennant’s attacks are misleading and in some cases, downright false, noting that the congresswoman, considered by most to be far more moderate than Ryan and other conservatives, has championed several mine safety initiatives and “has fought to protect Social security and Medicare.”

Republicans have pounced on Tennant’s invitation to Warren to campaign with her in West Virginia. Courting the unabashedly liberal Massachusetts senator, they say, shows just how much Tennant is out of touch with West Virginians.