COLUMBIA, South Carolina — In a packed gymnasium at Columbia College on her first trip to South Carolina since announcing her presidential exploratory committee, Sen. Elizabeth Warren tailored her pitch to talk about the economic plight of black families in America’s economy.
Making her first speech in the state, whose primary electorate in next year’s Democratic primary will be largely black, Warren told the crowd that she’s spent her adult life working to answer the questions “Why has the path gotten so rocky for working people in America?” and why are things “particularly rocky for African Americans?”
Warren then explained the history of redlining, a discriminatory practice that systematically denied black people loans to buy houses for decades. “That gap between white homeownership and black homeownership that was 27 points back when discrimination was legal? Today is 31 points. That’s not an America that’s working for everyone,” she said.
The largely white audience erupted in applause.
“Her commitment — as a professor, as a public servant, as a senator — her commitment to the middle class and the working class and caring about the least amongst us versus those who are already in power and already have opportunity, that’s why I support her,” said Eboni Nelson, a law professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, who Warren taught at Harvard. “What she’s talking about is very real. The wealth disparities — particularly in regards to home ownership — and the type of predatory lending that went on during the housing crisis and that continues to go on in different financial markets is definitely something that needs to be addressed.”
Warren’s comments are a slight twist on a common theme Warren has worked into her stump speech she’s delivered on the campaign trail. Where in Iowa, Warren spoke about “people of color,” in South Carolina, Warren specifically talked about issues related to black voters.
“I make these same arguments in Iowa, in New Hampshire — I have made these same arguments from the floor of the United States Senate. I have made these same arguments in the work I’ve done pretty much my whole grown-up life,” Warren told reporters when asked about the changes to her pitch. “I have had one central question that’s driven me, and that’s: what’s happening to hard working people in this country? People that work just as hard as my mom and dad but no matter how hard they work, they can’t keep their family afloat. And the answer is Washington. It’s a Washington that works great for billionaires.”
“The only way we’re going to change that is if we build a movement across this country, if we recognize the problem and commit ourselves to fighting back. And that’s what I’m doing here in South Carolina,” Warren added.
Warren’s first trip to the state is among a flurry of appearances this week of likely presidential candidates making their pitches to the state’s black voters. Over the Martin Luther King Day weekend, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker spoke passionately to large crowds of black voters on the steps of the state capitol, and Sanders followed his speech with roundtables and discussions at black Southern Baptist churches and a historically black college in the state. Sen. Kamala Harris will appear in the state on Friday at a fundraising gala for Alpha Kappa Alpha — the first historically black sorority founded in 1908.