SHEPHERDSTOWN — Focusing on pocketbook issues like student loan debt, Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren stirred up support for Natalie Tennant’s Senate bid in a packed Shepherdstown ballroom Monday.
A crowd of more than 400 cheered on the Massachusetts progressive star in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle, a Washington, D.C., commuter community much closer to the nation’s capital than the state’s. Warren, who says she won’t run for president despite rumors and support, tried to hush chants of “2020” and “2016” coming from the crowd.
Tennant, the Democratic Secretary of State, said her opponent in the race, seven-term Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., is too close to Wall Street interests. Tennant also ripped Rep. Paul Ryan’s GOP budget proposal, which would retool the Medicare program. Ryan stumped for Capito in Charleston Monday.
Though still a freshman senator, Warren has become a campaign trail staple for Senate Democrats and hopefuls. Since March, she has stumped for candidates in Ohio, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and Kentucky and has another trip planned for Michigan this week.
Tennant easily won the Democratic primary in May to run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who is not seeking re-election.
Warren was elected to the Senate in 2012, defeating Republican Scott Brown to become Massachusetts’ first female senator. She has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2016.
Warren has introduced several pieces of legislation in the Senate to reduce the interest on federal student loans.
Ashley Hall of Harpers Ferry introduced Tennant and Warren. She is in her third year of law school at West Virginia University.
“I had to take a loan for law school and I’m $73,000 in debt,” she told the crowd. “I’ll be $108,000 in debt by the time I graduate. Those loans earn $11.53 in interest every day. I don’t expect handouts, but students deserve lower interest rates on their student loans. We need a strong voice in the U.S. Senate. That’s why we need Natalie Tennant.”
In her remarks, Tennant defined the difference between Democrats and Republicans in the upcoming election.
“This race is not about me — it’s about you and it’s about students like Ashley,” Tennant said. “We need to invest in our greatest resource: people. I support Sen. Warren’s bill to lower interest rates on student loans. Today’s students are tomorrow’s workers and they must have the best tools to achieve success.”
Warren said that she and Tennant do not agree on every issue.
“But on the core issues, we agree,” Warren said during her remarks. “Our job is to fight for the families of America. I like Natalie. She’s strong and she’s ready to fight.”
Warren has supported the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s and the Obama administration’s strict limitations on the amount of carbon that coal-fired power plants can discharge. Critics say the new limits will seriously hurt the coal industry of West Virginia. Tennant has criticized of the EPA’s and administration’s policies on carbon reductions.
Warren’s bill that would have reduced the interest on student loans made by the federal government has stalled in the Senate.
“We’ve told students they need to have an education beyond high school, but the cost has skyrocketed, so the government will lend students money to go to school,” she said. “There’s a little hook in the government lending money. The American government is charging young people a high enough interest on their loans to pay for all the costs and to make tens of billions of dollars in profit -- $66 billion in profits.”
Warren said the profits are built into future federal budgets.
“To replace that money, all we need to do is stitch up the tax loopholes so that millionaires and billionaires pay the same tax rate as you,” she said. “Republicans say it’s more important to protect tax loopholes for millionaires than to protect our kids. They say it’s more important to stand up for Wall Street than for families.”
Warren asked the audience to spend part of each day until the general election in November working for Tennant’s election.
“She has stepped up to the plate — we need to step up to the plate with her,” Warren said. “What’s at stake is Wall Street or families of West Virginia.”
Warren did not take questions from reporters following the event.
Martinsburg Journal writer John McVey contributed to this report.