Elizabeth Warren takes midterm roadshow to West Virginia

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., on Monday continued her tour through coal country, extolling her populist message and crusade against Wall Street - this time for West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, who's campaigning to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller.

Minutes before the campaign event was scheduled to begin, staff at the Clarion Hotel in Shepherdstown, W.Va., ushered in extra chairs for the several hundred people packing into the Rockefeller Ballroom - a space named for the outgoing lawmaker whose seat Tennant is vying for. "Vote for Main Street, not for Wall Street" was chanted by the crowd over Katy Perry's hit song "Roar" prior to the joint entrance by Tennant and Warren.

It was a crowd that seemed unabated by Tennant's 10-point deficit in an uphill battle against Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito. Capito herself was also hosting a campaign event on Monday across the state in Charleston, featuring a legislative superstar from her own party, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Warren, ubiquitous as a red-state Democratic surrogate, took the stage after being introduced by Ashley Hawkins, a law school student from the Eastern Panhandle. Fittingly, Hawkins told the crowd that she expected to be in $100,000 worth of student loan debt upon completing law school, a number that Warren seized on as a campaign point.

"The little hook is that the American government is now charging our young people who did just what we wanted them to do," Warren told the crowd, eliciting boos. "A slice of student loans that were issued between 2007 to 2012 - just that little slice - is on target right now, after all the expenses, to produce $66 billion dollars in profits for the U.S. government."

Warren's solution to "stitch up the tax loop holes" for Wall Street's millionaires and billionaires in order to refinance student loans was just the start of her tirade against Wall Street that she delivered to a standing ovation with flailing arms and a wagging finger.

"They say it is more important to stand up for Wall Street than it is to stand up for the families across this country," Warren said of Republicans. "Well I tell you what, they can say it. But they're going to lose."

Warren's personal interest in the race became clear as she described Capito as a chief critic of Warren's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: "Two candidates who have made it pretty clear where they stand," she said. "One of them not so much about what she wants to say, but what it is that she does. So I just want you to take a lot at how much Shelley Moore Capito stood up for Wall Street. When they need her, she's been there."

Tennant sat to the left of Warren during her speech, nodding and cheering along with the crowd.

"[Warren] and I agree that there is too much influence of Wall Street in Washington and that influence in Washington is hurting our small businesses right here in West Virginia," Tennant told CBS News before taking the stage.

But Tennant wasn't shy in her addition of a crucial clarifier, one repeated often throughout the day: "She and I recognize we can agree on a lot but we can disagree on a lot," she said. "And I'll stand up against Elizabeth Warren, the President and anyone who tries to hurt our coal jobs."

Despite the protests from Tennant's camp that West Virginia should not be classified as a "red state," something of a transformation has occurred in recent years with the state trending Republican at the federal level despite Democratic voter registration outnumbering GOP voter registration. The state has not been won by a Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton, and Obama's unpopularity in the state is no secret.

"Capito's advantage and Tennant's problem is that one of them is of the party of the president of the United States," Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report told CBS News.

Another problem for Tennant: money and name recognition. Capito has a four-to-one advantage in money, Duffy told CBS News, and her district is in the Washington, D.C. media market - "an expensive place to get known."

One retired coalminer from Patriot Coal echoed that concern: "She doesn't have the money that the Chamber of Commerce has and Shelley Moore Capito has and all the big business has. Money talks."

Some supporters hope Warren's endorsement will change that. After scoring a hug from the Massachusetts senator on her way out, Jane Yearout - chief of the Berkeley County Democratic Association - approached CBS News boasting a huge smile.

"She's a populist here," Yearout said of Warren. "People try to paint her as some sort of liberal, and she is not that - she's a woman for the people."

  • Jacqueline Alemany

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