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Warren, Ryan Get Behind W.Va. Senate Candidates

Warren, Ryan Get Behind W.Va. Senate Candidates

By Adam O'Neal - July 14, 2014

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- A low-key Senate race received a jolt of adrenaline Tuesday when Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan appeared at dueling West Virginia campaign events to back their favored candidates. 

"Natalie Tennant and I do not agree on every issue," Warren said during remarks at a hotel here in Shepherdstown, some 75 miles outside of Washington. “But on the core issue … that defines us as human beings, Natalie and I agree. Our job is to fight for the families of America.”  

Although both Warren and Tennant -- West Virginia’s third female secretary of state and the Democratic Senate nominee -- spoke about education, the rally’s main theme, they also focused on a wider range of issues. 

Echoing Warren in saying that they don’t agree on every issue, Tennant suggested that they could work together in the upper chamber on most economic matters. 

“My number one priority as a U.S. senator is to bring good-paying jobs to the Mountain State,” said Tennant, adding, “That starts with energy.” (She later told reporters that newly released EPA regulations, which Warren supports, are “disgusting.”) 

About two hours before that joint appearance, House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan sat with Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, the GOP Senate nominee, at a Charleston roundtable on jobs.

In a statement, Ryan asserted that “few states have been hit harder by President Obama’s devastating policies than West Virginia, but Shelley Moore Capito has been right there on the front lines fighting back.” 

Capito noted, “West Virginians told us today that they want their next senator to stand up for an all-of-the-above energy agenda that embraces coal. They want someone who will fix the problems with Obamacare. And, they want someone who will stop strangling regulations from killing jobs and small businesses. That’s exactly what I’m prepared to do.” 

Republicans have eagerly worked to tie Tennant to Obama, who in 2012 became the first president to lose every West Virginia county and who remains a pariah in the state. 

Asked if she would campaign with Obama, Tennant told reporters that the president would have “a lot of explaining to do” if he visited the state.  

The president and national Democrats have damaged the party’s brand in West Virginia and given Republicans a boost in this year’s election to replace retiring Jay Rockefeller. Democratic voter registration recently fell below 50 percent for the first time since 1932, a significant metric. 

Capito is currently favored to prevail and become the state’s first female senator. Tennant trails the seven-term congresswoman by about 10 percentage points, according to the RCP polling average

The dual Warren and Ryan appearances further nationalized the race, as each candidate attacked her opponent’s backer and tied the other candidate to policies that are unpopular in West Virginia. 

The Capito campaign referred to Warren as “anti-coal Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren” and released statements from Republican senators such as John Thune and David Vitter tying Tennant to Warren’s positions on coal and financial reform. 

Sen. Jerry Moran called Tennant “too liberal” for West Virginia, adding that Warren and Obama are “at odds with workers and families.” 

The Tennant campaign offered a similar strategy at the event attended largely by a crowd of gray-haired voters, lambasting Ryan’s budget proposals and portraying Capito as a tool of Wall Street. 

Tennant also asserted at the rally that “turning Medicare into a voucher program or allowing Wall Street to gamble away our Social Security in the stock market should never be on the table,” an unsubtle dig at the views of her opponent’s high-profile backer. 

Howard Price, one of the few African-Americans at the Tennant rally and a Vietnam veteran, joked, “Don’t get me started on Paul Ryan” when asked if he thought the congressman was out of step with working-class people. 

The Tennant campaign sent out a fundraising e-mail in response to the Ryan visit. A Capito campaign staffer told RCP that “small-dollar donors came out in droves” after the announcement of Warren’s appearance. 

Despite the pushback, both campaigns gladly welcomed their endorsers and the attention they brought. (In her remarks, Tennant acknowledged inviting Warren.)

Both of the high-profile lawmakers are rumored to be considering 2016 presidential bids, though Ryan has shown more openness to the idea than Warren (who has denied interest in running). 

Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, is one of the Capito campaign’s most prominent supporters. Warren has proven to be a prolific Democratic fundraiser capable of energizing the party’s base. 

Tennant’s decision to campaign with Warren initially came as a surprise, as the candidate has distanced herself from national Democrats on myriad issues. 

But Tennant’s campaign aggressively pushed back against the claim that Warren’s brand of progressivism doesn’t fit well in West Virginia. Before the two women took the stage, Tennant supporters chanted, “A vote for Main Street, not for Wall Street.”

Warren echoed the sentiment: “What I like about Natalie is, she’s ready to fight.”

Adam O'Neal is a political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at aoneal@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearAdam.

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