In the midst of a nationally-watched, closely-contested U.S. senate race, Elizabeth Warren came to the Vineyard this weekend with a message: there are two visions of America on the table for November’s election, she said, and stakes are high.
“I wasn’t drawn into this race because of a political calculation over a winnable race,” Ms. Warren told the Gazette on Sunday. “It was the passion of what’s happening to America’s working people, and if we don’t make some serious changes, the whole foundation will start to crumble. So there’s this feeling of urgency around it.”
Ms. Warren’s weekend trip to the Vineyard, during which she addressed a group of passionate supporters at a fundraiser at the Old Whaling Church, chatted with voters and was wowed by the clam chowder at an Edgartown restaurant, was marked by enthusiasm, she said.
Well-wishers stopped her on Main street. “They look me in the eye and they say you’ve got to win,” Ms. Warren, a Democrat, said during a visit to the Gazette, where she talked with staff about what she thinks are the chief distinctions between her and incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown.
The two are vying for the senate seat that the late Edward Kennedy held for 47 years; Mr. Brown won the seat in a January 2010 special election
As Ms. Warren sees it, this contest mirrors the national political debate: two competing visions for the future of America.
“I think this is truly about the vision for how America builds its future,” she said. “Just think of it. It’s the Romney-Obama race in part, it’s the whole national race in part.”
On one side, Ms. Warren said, there’s deregulation and cutting taxes, a smaller role for government. She pointed to Mr. Romney’s calls to cut tax rates and deregulate Wall Street. “It says the way we build a future as a country is to let the rich and powerful become richer and more powerful,” she said.
On the other hand, Ms. Warren said she advocates creating a level playing field, and a federal government that partners with local communities to provide services and infrastructure. “We all invest in creating the conditions that build opportunity,” she said. Government is what we do together that none of us can do alone. And that’s true when we talk about building schools, or building bridges — you can’t build the road in front of your house and count on your neighbors to do the same. The road is only valuable because we built it all the way across and we did it all together. The same is true for the environment.”
The former Harvard Law School professor led the Congressional Oversight Committee over the bank bailout, and helped create the Consumer Protection Agency. She said years of deregulation are responsible for recent economic woes. “Telling the big guys that they don’t need any rules, they can do whatever they want, brings us to the edge of financial collapse. Failing to make those investments in education and infrastructure pounds America’s middle class,” she said.
Beyond finances and competing visions for the future, Ms. Warren said there’s more that sets her apart from her opponent.
“I think there’s going to be a real conversation around women’s issues,” she said, noting that Mr. Brown voted against the so-called Paycheck Fairness Act, which provided for equal pay for equal work. and co-sponsored an amendment that would permit employers to deny insurance coverage for birth control.
“I think there’s just a larger question about the Supreme Court as a bulwark to protect women’s rights. It hangs by a single vote,” she said. “And it’s the United States Senate that has the final say on who sits on the Supreme Court.”
She also supports the Affordable Health Care act, upheld in the recent landmark Supreme Court ruling.
“There are such clear differences,” she said.
And while this was Ms. Warren’s first trip to the Vineyard, she was no stranger to Vineyard issues and how national talking points play out in a small scale here on the Island. Her argument for community/federal partnerships would make a difference on the Vineyard, she said, like in the case of affordable housing.
“It’s very personal, it’s the family who can’t get into affordable housing, and if they can’t get into affordable housing they’re going to leave. They’re going to say, we’re going to try gluing this together, we’ll try this for one more year but we can’t do the shuffle anymore, we have babies now. We need to be buying something and building equity in our lives. We can’t live like tumbleweed, we’ve got to put something down,” she said.
She also pointed to health care. “It’s critical on Martha’s Vineyard that there be a viable health care community. And it means a hospital, it means doctors, it means care, here on the Island.”
She brought up the long struggle for veterans to regain access to on-Island health care. “The idea now that they’ve got to go off-Island for treatment, it’s expensive and dangerous. Now if there’s excess capacity in the local hospital, then there ought to be an area to marry those, right, to get better care locally. And that takes a federal partner that understands it’s not one size fits all, that what works in Boston doesn’t work on the Vineyard, that there are special needs and that government works best when it’s a respectful partner,” she said.
Her position on wind farms? “I’m a believer. I’m a believer in clean energy, I support Cape Wind. I’m very pleased that they’ve worked something out with the fishermen . . . I think that’s the critical piece in this,” she said.
During her two-day trip, Ms. Warren attended two fundraisers, one public and one private, and said she talked to voters over breakfast at Saltwater Cafe, strolled Vineyard streets with her husband and ate a dinner of scallops and clam chowder at the Square Rigger.
“It’s my kind of clam chowder, it’s the kind with the thinner broth, that has the stronger taste of clams,” she said.
“You know this is one of the best parts about running for office, is to see this commonwealth, just to see it community by community.”
Mr. Brown and Ms. Warren have made headlines recently over disagreements about debates. Ms. Warren said the two will meet for four televised and one radio debate.
Ms. Warren said her campaign has been fueled by small donations that average about $50. “It personally means so much to me. We have people who have made large contributions, for sure . . . but we also have many people who are making $12 a month contributions, who put it up for automatic renewal on their credit cards.”
Later Sunday some of Ms. Warren’s support was evident at the Old Whaling Church fundraiser, where supporters were handed buttons reading “I Love Lizzie” and stood to applaud as Ms. Warren walked into the room, shaking hands down the aisle as she walked to the podium. There, she spoke more about competing visions of America, growing up in a “working family,” and how the daughter of a maintenance man grew up to be a law school professor.
“I’m scared that that story is a story embedded in time,” she said.
After she spoke, some supporters lined up to ask questions. A Washington, D.C. voter said she envied Massachusetts voters who get to cast a vote for Ms. Warren, while others asked about health care and the war in Iraq.
One question centered on the recent challenges to Ms. Warren’s claims that she has Native American heritage. She said Mr. Brown has been attacking this point because “he’s kind of in a problem if we end up talking about any of the issues.”
“Do I know who I am? Yeah, I know exactly who I am,” she said.
Cape and Islands state Rep. Tim Madden attended the event, as did Caroline Kennedy, with her son, Jack.
Ms. Warren told the Gazette that the legacy of Mr. Kennedy, whom she worked with on bankruptcy issues in the 1990s, looms large for her.
“It inspires me but it inspires in two ways. It inspires me in both the aspiration, look at Ted Kennedy, and it’s like, wow, look how much good you can do . . . and it makes me feel very humble. He had incredible gifts. And so the best I can say is I just think of it in terms of keeping my heart true. If the question is can I measure up to Ted Kennedy, I’m not sure anybody could. But I can promise I can try to be true to what he did. I promise I can work as hard. I promise I can keep the vision inside, because that’s what he did.”