By Andy Metzger
State House News Service
---- — CHARLOTTE — For Oklahoman Wallace Stevens, Wednesday night’s proceedings would have been hardly imaginable a couple decades ago, but there he was, chairman of his state’s Democratic Party watching a woman from his hometown of Norman deliver rousing remarks from the convention stage.
Besides their shared hometown, Stevens’ life bears some similarities to the personal story U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren told of her childhood “on the ragged edge of the middle class,” growing up in Oklahoma.
“Yeah, I can identify with all that,” said Stevens, who was an automotive machinist for years before running and winning a state representative seat. Stevens said he went to school with Warren’s older brother, David Herring, and described him as “just an average teenage kid. You know, we were friends, and ran around together some.”
“I guess I’d have to say this, I was kind of surprised… You kind of have this image of kids when they’re in high school, and of course you never know what they’re going to grow up to be, and I’m the same way. I’m frankly surprised that I grew up to be a state representative and now I’m chair of the Democratic Party and all that, and it’s like, you know, I didn’t dream to be that. I didn’t dream to be this,” said Stevens, who was at his first Democratic National Convention.
Warren was also at her first DNC, she said from the stage, giving the lead-in speech to former President Bill Clinton’s nominating speech. Warren talked about her own middle-class story, and the history of the middle class in America, contrasting ideas shared by her and President Barack Obama and those she attributed to Mitt Romney. Warren did not mention her opponent, U.S. Sen. Scott Brown.
“Mitt Romney’s the guy who said corporations are people. No, Gov. Romney, corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they cry, they dance. They live, they love and they die, and that matters,” Warren said in one of many lines that got the arena crowd on its feet cheering.
Brown has previously derided Warren as a “rock thrower” who would make the Senate more partisan.
Warren spoke just ahead of former President Clinton, who delivered the nominating speech, and her words resonated with people from both inside and outside Massachusetts.
“Elizabeth Warren was so impressive. I’m such a big fan of hers, and I think she’ll lift us to great heights,” said U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on her way out of the convention hall.
“I’ve been a fan of her for a very long time,” said West Virginia delegate Elizabeth Cruikshank, who said she first saw Warren on The Daily Show, but said Wednesday’s speech showed a more personal side of the candidate. Cruikshank said, “Every time that I’ve ever listened to her previously she has been like a numbers-oriented person. Today she brought it home that she is a mom and a grandmother.”
For others, the speech was an introduction.
“I think Elizabeth Warren was absolutely outstanding. She was solid,” said Mike Davis, a California assemblyman from the Los Angeles area who said he knew of Warren only “peripherally” and had never heard her speak before. Davis said, “I think she was very magnetic, drawing you closer to not only her as she spoke, but the message and it resonated.”
The Senate campaign in which Brown is attempting to retain his seat by fashioning himself as an independent voice is nothing new to Massachusetts politicians, but they also offered praise for the speech.
“I think she communicated what our country’s about. What the vision of the country is. The fact that it’s about looking out for the little guy and the little woman,” said Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson. He said, “I think it showed how real Elizabeth Warren is. Some of the criticism has been how do we connect. She connected today. She showed who and what she is.”
Attorney General Martha Coakley, who lost to Brown in a 2010 special election for the Senate seat, said November’s contest would be different because of the voting record Brown has built up since taking the seat.
“It’s three years later. This is a longer campaign. There’s other context for this,” said Coakley, continuing, “People now have a record, a Scott Brown record to look at, and she has a very strong record herself.”
Alexis Lewis, a California delegate who is originally from Ada, Oklahoma, and another fan of Warren, said her account of growing up in Oklahoma rang true.
“I can relate to that. I can relate to the fact that, you know, it’s pretty tough,” said Lewis.