SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.V. — Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., stopped here yesterday to campaign for Natalie Tennant’s bid to succeed retiring Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller. Ms. Tennant is currently Secretary of State and is in a tight race with outgoing Republican Congresswoman Shelly Moore Capito for the seat. The race could be a decisive one in this year’s national battle for control of the U.S. Senate.
Over 500 people (I stopped counting at 320 and barely half the room) packed in the standing-room-only Grand Ballroom of the Clarion Hotel and listened as Ms. Tennant gave a spirited stump speech. Shepherdstown veterans said they had not seen such a turnout in this town of 1800 since Clinton brought the Middle East peace talks to nearby Camp David, and a local public meeting was held.
Tennant’s speech sought to contrast her campaign with Ms. Capito’s on equal pay for women, raising the minimum wage, financial reform to protect working families, student debt relief, education policy and protecting the jobs, retirement and healthcare of West Virginia miners and natural gas workers.
On all these questions she followed a tried and often true maxim of Senator Robert Byrd: “99 percent of politics is constituent service – that is how most voters evaluate representation.” Thus, on every question, Ms. Tennant positioned her role as bringing home the bacon and beans.
While Ms. Tennant warmed to the huge crowd and national press, most knew that something was afoot. Elizabeth Warren’s ostensible role was to turnout the progressive West Virginia Democratic vote (concentrated in the Eastern Panhandle where coal is not part of the economy) for Ms. Tennant, despite some aversion to Ms. Tennant’s strong support of the coal industry, and her full cooperation in the coal industry’s anti-Obama, anti-EPA, “war on anyone who is against coal” campaigns.
Senator Warren performed this task in a striking, but business-like manner by simply highlighting the basic human and democratic values at stake in the national debates over inequality, education and jobs. The protection of those values is fundamental to all issues, including national unity on addressing climate change. She convinced me. I will support Natalie Tennant now, whereas I was holding my nose before.
Senator Warren characterizes what others call her rising “rock star” public persona as more like a lightening bolt from another world on an unsuspecting, plain spoken, ordinary American of modest means who fate placed in a fortuitous position to exercise true citizenship. Duty called her to raise her voice against the massive financial rip offs of recent decades. As an economics professor at Harvard specializing in bankruptcies, she was in a unique, expert position to play a key role in the financial reforms that eventually passed Congress after the 2008 crisis.
The reason why Elizabeth Warren is a rock star, however, is much more than a matter of expertise in finance. It’s because of her demonstrated integrity under fire; it’s because of her refusal to play the “Washington insiders” game where you have access to powerful people as long as you don’t criticize other insiders.
Instead, she kept telling the truth about the financial crisis and its causes. And she did so without being mean-spirited in the face of both administration blandishments and vicious smear tactics by Republican spitball artists. She was doing it again in big red, white and blue colors yesterday. She conveys a trust and connection with ordinary people that Hillary Clinton, the presumptive frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, will have difficulty matching.
There was no question that the crowd was huge because some are sensing that this progressive favorite and so far steadfastly undeclared candidate for president has the biography, the smarts, the practicality combined with straight dealing, and the values, to lead not only the progressives but the vast center of the country as well . She is “not running,” despite some calls of “Thank you, Madame President.” But lightning can strike twice.
Photo: Natalie Tennant’s Facebook page.