Reuters
Reuters

Today, Elizabeth Warren blasted out a fundraising email to her list of supporters on behalf of Alison Lundergan Grimes.

“Make no mistake about who blocked our student loan bill,” Warren’s missive reads. “Mitch McConnell told his party to turn a blind eye to the 40 million people all across the country who work hard, play by the rules, and now find themselves just getting crushed with student loan debt. Why? Because he didn’t want to close the tax loopholes for millionaires and billionaires to pay for the bill.”

“Help hold Mitch McConnell accountable for leading the charge against America’s struggling students. Make a donation to Alison’s campaign right now,” wrote Warren, who is heading to Kentucky later this month.

While Beltway commentators remain consumed with the political impact of Obamacare and Bowe Bergdahl, one under-the-radar issue that could gain traction in several Senate races is student loans — framed on Warren’s terms, as a battle between those who prioritize protecting the wealth of billionaires and those who want to help ordinary Americans still struggling under crushing debt in the wake of the Great Recession.

In coming days you can expect Grimes to focus specifically on how Mitch McConnell’s filibuster of the student loan bill would impact Kentucky women in particular, linking that to Grimes’ effort to tailor other issues, such as the minimum wage, to a broader argument about women’s pocketbook issues.

Warren’s student loan bill would have allowed millions of students to refinance loans at lower interest rates, paid for by the “Buffett Rule” ending tax breaks for millionaires paying low rates.

Meanwhile, the student loan issue could have interesting resonance in the Senate race in North Carolina, where there are large numbers of students. GOP Senate candidate Thom Tillis initially refused to take a position on the bill after the GOP filibuster, before releasing a statement claiming it has “glaring issues.” Dem Kay Hagan’s campaign responded by hitting Tillis for his involvement in the state legislature’s cuts to education, a key example of the state’s hard turn to the right, which will be a central to the sharp ideological contrast driving this contest.

Meanwhile, the Dem-allied Patriot Majority PAC is up with an ad in Arkansas blasting GOP candidate Tom Cotton for benefiting from student loans to go to Harvard while voting against a measure in the House to lower college borrowing costs.

In 2012, Elizabeth Warren gave a speech to a roomful of people on why it’s reasonable to expect the rich to give more back to the society that helped enable their success. It went viral and framed an argument over individual initiative, taxes and the social contract that dominated the presidential campaign for months.

The student loan battle will not come remotely close to that level of impact. But Warren’s framing of this battle will resonate a bit in 2014. McConnell justified his filibuster by sneering that the student loan bill is a “show vote,” and in an interview with Chris Hayes, Warren responded:

“There are 40 million Americans dealing with student loan debt….young people today can’t buy homes, can’t buy businesses, because they’re spending so much on student loan debt…for Mitch McConnell to lead the attack on that just shows whose side he stands on. Mitch McConnell is there for millionaires and billionaires. He is not there for people who are working hard and playing by the rules.”

In Kentucky, expect a similar case from Grimes, one that will be tied to her attacks on McConnell for refusing to raise the minimum wage for Kentuckians despite being a multi-millionaire himself. In North Carolina, expect a similar case to be made as part of efforts to turn out young voters, a group that traditionally drops off in midterms.

To be sure, the midterm dropoff problem Dems face is severe — as is the national political environment — and an issue like this may not make much difference. But Dems are going for an approach that entails pushing on as many fronts as they possibly can, in hopes of limiting their losses on the margins just enough to hang on to control of the Senate. And student loans will figure into that.

 

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.