Elizabeth Warren traveled deep into “MAGA Country” and found herself welcomed with open arms, even by diehard Trump supporters.
Warren traveled through rural West Virginia and made a stop in the small town of Kermit. The town boasts a population of 406. No one ever imagined a presidential candidate, especially a Democratic one, would stop to speak at such a small rural town, especially in a state where four in five ballots cast in the 2016 presidential election were for Donald Trump.
Though the town of Kermit is small, it is one of the epicenters of the opioid addiction epidemic raging throughout the state. The toll that opioids have had on this small town is so visible and heartbreaking. The town’s community center is a shuttered up shell. The town’s fire trucks are decades old and should have been retired long ago.
Warren visited Kermit because of its opioid epidemic. She wanted to reach out to those most ravaged by drugs and to let them know that they have not been forgotten.
Warren admits to being a bit nervous about the stop. She wasn’t sure how she would be received in a town and state that clearly was part of MAGA Country.
Wilburn “Tommy” Preece, 63, the town’s fire chief, says that he warned Warren and her team beforehand that they were traveling into Trump country. He told them that they shouldn’t expect a warm welcome. He did add that the town would be open to anyone who wanted to come and address the opioid crisis. Two years ago, Preece was the first responder to a reported overdose only to find upon arrival that the victim was his youngest brother, Timmy, who died.
When Warren arrived, there were about a dozen Trump supporters waiting, some of them wearing MAGA stickers. The event was held at the Kermit Fire & Rescue Headquarters Station. About 150 people gathered to hear what Warren had to say. Her crowd was a diverse one and included Trump supporting college students, housewives, liberal retirees wearing “Persist” t-shirts, financially struggling teachers and the fire chief dressed in his best uniform.
Warren entered the firehouse from behind an American flag. She walked around the room and spoke to those in attendance with a tone that had equal parts of empathy and anger.
At the beginning of the event, Warren asked that anyone that knew someone who had been touched by the “grips of addiction” raise their hands. Almost every hand in the room went up.
“That’s why I’m here today,” she said. Warren told them that their “pain and suffering was caused by predatory pharmaceutical barons.”
Warren was happily surprised that throughout her speech that even the Trump supporters applauded what she had to say.
Those who attended the event appreciated not only Warren’s time but her words and her passion.
LeeAnn Blankenship, a 38-year-old coach, shared that she voted for Trump in 2016, but that after hearing Warren speak, she would seriously consider voting for her.
“She’s a good ol’ country girl like anyone else,” Blankenship said of Warren, who grew up in Oklahoma. “She’s earned where she is, it wasn’t given to her. I respect that.”
Joel Christian Cook, who isn’t from Kermit, but made the drive to hear what Warren had to say, told me that he has made the decision to back Warren in the 2020 presidential election. He says he will cast his vote for her because “she is smart, sincere and she is solidly on the side of working Americans. Her proposals are detailed, and her plans to tax these greedy individuals and corporations, especially from the pharmaceutical industry, and to use the money raised to fight opioid abuse and addiction, fund education, infrastructure, and environmental protections.”
He adds that “she will take the regressive, do-nothing, greedy Republican Party, and undo the damage lying con man Trump has done here, and abroad.”
Jamie Miller, an artist, and abortion rights activist, made the trip from Charleston to hear Warren speak. Miller clearly liked what Warren had to say during the event. After the event, she had the opportunity to speak to Warren and share a hug.
“So today while Senator Warren was giving me a genuine hug. She whispered to me We can do this. I got big ol tears and said we sure as hell can. She is the real deal,” Miller shared.
Warren says that her trip to West Virginia wasn’t about votes, she knows the state won’t decide the nominations and that in the end most will repeat their votes for Trump. She made the trip because she wants people to know that she is serious about tackling the problems that plague remote communities like Kermit.
“The opioid war is a medical problem rather than a behavioral or law enforcement one.”
“We’ve got a second problem in this country and its greed,” Warren said. “People didn’t get addicted all on their own, they got a lot of corporate help. They got a lot of help from corporations that made big money off getting people addicted and keeping them addicted.”
Back in 2016, Kermit was the subject of a series that won a Pulitzer Prize. The series found that drug wholesalers provided a single pharmacy in the rural town of just over 400 residents with 9 million hydrocodone pills over just two years. Warren’s plan would dole out $100 billion over the next decade to states, cities, and nonprofits, with the extra money going to cities and counties with the highest levels of overdoses.
“Right here in Mingo County, people are on the front lines of this opioid epidemic and this is a way to draw attention to the urgency of the moment,” Warren told reporters after the event.
Warren’s approach to the opioid crisis calls for treating the victims and punishing the perpetrators.
Warren shares that while she posed for selfies after the event a handful of people pressed notes into her hand. She read those notes later in the car as she left the town of Kermit.
“Help our town of Kermit, West Virginia any way you can to help us be able to reduce the drug abuse,” read one letter. You can view a video of Warren reading those notes here.
When Warren was later asked what stuck with her from the visit to the small rural town, she said it was the moment when she asked who had been personally been affected by the opioid crisis and almost every hand in the room went up.
“I was in the town where the pain of that decision by the government to not interfere was felt hard,” she said. “A lot of people told me, You’re in the reddest of the red here,” Warren shared. But “I like being here.”