Warming Up for First Debate, Beto O'Rourke Courts Miami Teachers, Elizabeth Warren Basks in Adoration

MIAMI - Democrats angling for a shot at Donald Trump have converged on Miami ahead of the first primary debates, with some finishing their debate prep in plain sight.Beto O’Rourke warmed up Tuesday with a town hall session hosted by a major teachers union that drew about 100 educators. The Texan hopes to leave Miami with renewed buzz, having tumbled far since the heady days before he actually jumped into the race.He drew applause with a promise to replace Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, with someone who not only supports public schools but has also taught in them, and can relate to working with too little pay and not enough financial support.“Only that schoolteacher who is going to bring other schoolteachers to the table with her or with him is going to guide us to a much better education policy,” he said.Sen. Elizabeth Warren drew 1,300 at a rally styled as a town hall. The adoring crowd waving campaign placards clearly hadn’t just come to kick the tires.“A government that cannot tell the difference between a terrorist, a criminal and a little girl is not a government that is keeping us safe,” she said, denouncing the Trump administration’s immigration policies, and announcing that she will visit a detention center in nearby Homestead on Wednesday. O'Rourke plans a visit the following day.They’re the marquee debaters among the 10 sharing a stage Wednesday night, including the other Texan in the hunt, Julian Castro, the former housing secretary and San Antonio mayor. Ten others get their turn Thursday night, including the front-runners, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, who between them enjoy nearly half the support in polls.O’Rourke’s final campaign event before the debate was the town hall hosted by the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers, emceed by union president Randi Weingarten, in the gym of a middle school in a section of Miami with lots of Haitian immigrants.Asked how he would protect social safety net programs, O’Rourke called it “unconscionable and unnecessary” to raise the Social Security retirement age or trim benefits for future retirees.This was the union’s seventh town hall with a 2020 presidential candidate, and Weingarten predicted the debates will help clarify the field.“Beto and Biden are focused, in a time of great discord and great polarization, on their aspirations, as opposed to people's frustrations. Elizabeth Warren is very focused on plans to try to change things, and so she leads with plans,” Weingarten said. “People come with different experiences and different worldviews. ...You’re going to see that on the stage.”At a cavernous convocation center at Florida International University, a Warren supporter warmed up the crowd with a call-and-response chant of “Dream big! Fight hard!” The scoreboard showed a 20-20 tie between the teams “Winwith” and “Warren.”A state legislator led a chant of "Sí, se puede” before calling Warren “one of our warrior princesses” and a “she-ro.”Warren drew one ovation after another. The briefest answer to bring people to their feet was when a man asked if she would go to war with Iran: “No.”A half-hour into it, after she called for all presidential candidates to post their tax returns online, a shot at Trump, who reneged on a campaign promise to release his returns, the crowd broke out into a chant of “Warren! Warren!”At O’Rourke’s town hall, a special education teacher noted that starting teachers in Florida earn as little as $11.40 an hour. O’Rourke vowed to boost federal spending on education, and to prod Florida to boost state outlays.“I don't want to reward Florida for its disinvestment in students and teachers,” he said.One proposal that went over especially well was a promise to beef up incentives for public service. A decade is too long to wait for loan forgiveness on college debt, O’Rourke said."Year one, we start paying your loans down so you can afford to teach," he promised.Irene Lipof, 72, an education professor at Miami-Dade College, left impressed. As it happens, O’Rourke and Warren are her favorites in the field of 25 Democrats.“He was very sensitive to the fact that many teachers have to work second or third jobs,” she said. “His ideas are excellent. He was so close to winning that seat in Texas. I think he’s going to stand up well.”Marqus Robinson, 35, a math teacher at a middle school in Plantation, Fla., was very impressed.“He was amazing. He clearly has a vision for the country and he kind of gravitates people to him,” he said.**  Continue reading...

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