Elizabeth Warren told a crowd at Columbia College on Wednesday about how things used to work.
Growing up in Oklahoma, when Warren’s father was sick and her family faced foreclosure on their home, her mother was able to pull them through with a minimum-wage job at Sears.
Later, with money from a part-time job as a waitress, Warren was able to get the college education that launched her into a career as a school teacher.
Looking back at her life’s trajectory and the struggles that face working people today, the U.S. senator from Massachusetts told the crowd of 1,000 Wednesday she became focused on the question, “Why has the path gotten so rocky for working people in America?”
To help the middle class, Warren said the federal government needs to lessen the influence of corporate lobbyists and Wall Street firms, and pursue policies that empower labor unions, make college and health care affordable, and make owning a home a realistic goal.
But Washington has lost its way, she added.
The question in Washington used to be, “What keeps a family of three afloat?” she said. “Now, it’s: ‘What does it take to improve the profits of big multinational corporations?’ ”
The current administration of Republican President Donald Trump — up for re-election next year — is “the most corrupt in living memory,” she added.
Warren’s visit comes sandwiched in the middle of a busy week for presidential-watchers in South Carolina.
On Monday, two other prospective Democratic candidates — U.S. Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. — spoke at the annual Martin Luther King Day rally at the State House. On Friday, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., will be in Columbia to speak at a fundraiser for the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
In a state where a majority of voters in next year’s Democratic primary will be African-American, Warren highlighted the economic disparity facing black Americans in particular.
Warren said that in 1960, “when discrimination was legal,” the gap between white and black homeownership was 27 percentage points. Today, it’s 31 points.
“That’s not an America that’s working for everyone,” she said.
Carlos Lopez, a River Bluff High School student, said he wished Warren had talked more about the border wall behind the ongoing government shutdown.
Discussing the ongoing partial federal government shutdown, Warren said Democrats are prepared to discuss border security but not if it means federal workers are “held hostage.”
Warren also took at shot at the current administration, calling it “the most corrupt in living memory.”
Republicans are keeping an eye on Warren’s campaign.
The Republican National Committee on Wednesday called her an advocate for “higher taxes and government-run health care” who appeals to the “far-left fringes of her party.”
“It’s clear Elizabeth Warren is focused more on her own political ambitions than helping hard-working families across South Carolina,” said Republican spokesman Mandi Merritt in a statement. “The Palmetto State has benefited from President Trump’s ‘America First’ agenda and knows that Warren is nothing but a phony who has repeatedly fumbled delivery on the national stage.”
But those who lined up for photos with Warren after her appearance Wednesday night were more positive.
Ashlee Lewis, an education professor at the University of South Carolina, said she was impressed with Warren’s grasp of policy details and her passion. But she said she’s trying to keep an open mind toward the other Democratic candidates.
“I live in Columbia, so I’m sure I’ll get a lot of opportunities to see them,” Lewis said.