US Politics

Democrat Warren kicks off 2020 run, hobbled by ancestry row

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US Senator Elizabeth Warren, struggling to move past criticism over her claims of Native American heritage, has launched her 2020 presidential campaign, promising to fight for all Americans.

Democrat Elizabeth Warren has officially kicked off her 2020 White House run with a full-throated pledge to defend working Americans, unbowed by a row over her Native American ancestry that has threatened to nip her campaign in the bud.

"This is the fight of our lives," she told cheering supporters in gritty Lawrence, Massachusetts, against "a rigged system that props up the rich and powerful and kicks dirt on everyone else."

Senator Elizabeth Warren greets a supporter during an event to formally launch her presidential campaign.
Senator Elizabeth Warren greets a supporter during an event to formally launch her presidential campaign.
AP

"Millions of families can barely breathe," Warren said, in a feisty speech that sounded a series of aggressively populist and unapologetically left-leaning themes. "It is not right."

The Massachusetts senator -- who had announced her intention to run on New Year's Eve -- is among the highest-profile of the growing pool of Democrats hoping to unseat President Donald Trump in 2020.

Her past battles with Wall Street have brought her a large following, and she is considered to have one of the best campaign organizations of any Democrat. Hoping to ride the momentum of her speech, she heads next to early-voting Iowa and New Hampshire, as well as five other states.

But it remained unclear how badly damaged Warren is by a stubborn controversy over her claim to Native American roots -- a claim Trump has seized upon to belittle her, mocking her as "Pocahontas."

Hoping to put the controversy to rest, Warren released DNA tests in October -- but this backfired when they showed her to have only negligible amounts of Native blood, dating back generations. Warren ultimately apologized to the Cherokee Nation.

The matter reared its head again this week when The Washington Post published what it said was an official 1980s document in which Warren listed her race as "American Indian."

'Exposed as a fraud' 

Trump's re-election campaign issued a dismissive statement ahead of Warren's announcement, saying she had "been exposed as a fraud by the Native Americans she impersonated and disrespected to advance her professional career." It said her "socialist ideas" would hurt workers.

"This is a story that she did not want in this launch," said John Cluverius, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

Elizabeth Warren speaks outside Everett Mills during an event to formally launch her presidential campaign.
Elizabeth Warren speaks outside Everett Mills during an event to formally launch her presidential campaign.
AP

But he also cautioned that "it's still very, very early" to speculate on "how it harms her, or doesn't harm her."

Lawrence, the scene of Warren's announcement, is a former mill town where a group of women workers, including many immigrants, in 1912 launched a strike that spread across the region and came to be seen as a historic victory for women and for labor, with improved wages and working conditions.

The site was carefully chosen by the 69-year-old senator, who has made the protection of middle-class rights the central pillar of her political message.

Lawrence, once part of a bustling US textile industry, has for years fallen on hard times, with the loss of thousands of factory jobs.

Humble origins 

But Warren showed nothing but pride in Lawrence's pro-worker history. "I will never give up on you," she said. "I am in this fight all the way."

She called for "big, structural change" in America that would reach beyond a change in leadership -- though she called the Trump administration "the most corrupt" in memory.

Senator Elizabeth Warren officially announces her candidacy for President of the United States.
Senator Elizabeth Warren officially announces her candidacy for President of the United States.

She pointed to her own rise from humble origins -- the daughter of a janitor, she started her schooling in a $50-a-semester community college and ended up teaching law at Harvard -- arguing that she can help bring a revival of the American Dream.

She called for steeper taxes on the rich, strong anti-corruption legislation, curbs on lobbyists and a defense of the climate. She also supports universal health care.

Warren tried to appeal to a broad ethnic coalition, saying, "We must not allow those with power to weaponize hatred and bigotry to divide us."

Cluverius says Warren will need strong Hispanic support since two popular African Americans -- Democratic senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker -- are also in the crowded field.

She will also need to win over female voters, which might explain the highly unusual -- and somewhat risky -- decision to include a story about potty-training her baby daughter.

Warren recounted her decision to go to law school when Amelia was not quite two years old, but that the only day care she could find -- with five days to go -- would only take her if potty-trained.

A determined Warren accomplished the task, she told a laughing crowd, "courtesy of three bags of M&Ms."

"Since that day, I've never let anyone tell me that anything is 'too hard,'" she quipped.

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