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Warren Aims to Mix Crusader's Zeal, Working-Class Roots

Warren Aims to Mix Crusader's Zeal, Working-Class Roots

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - April 24, 2012


SOMERVILLE, Mass. -- On a cold, drizzly Sunday morning here, Elizabeth Warren tells a few dozen supporters who have gathered to canvass the neighborhood on her behalf that her U.S. Senate race against Republican incumbent Scott Brown is about "whose side do you stand on" and "whether or not the government in Washington belongs to us."

The challenges she faced while working with the Obama administration to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau drew her into this race, she says: "I came to see in a very real and tangible way that the lobbyists have all the power so long as we are not using our voices."

Warren is positioning herself in this race as a fighter for middle-class families, someone who won’t bow to opposition pressure. She hopes to return the seat once occupied by the late Ted Kennedy to the Democrats by pushing a populist message and making no apologies for her liberal views. At the same time, Republicans are painting her as a Cambridge elitist who raises money from Hollywood celebrities. (And Warren’s admission last week that she did not pay a voluntary higher tax rate in Massachusetts fueled a GOP characterization of her as hypocrite.)

There is not much doubt that President Obama will win the heavily Democratic Bay State this November, and Warren will surely benefit from sharing the ballot with the president. But even if voters here back the president, do they want a senator who stands to the left of him?

That’s difficult to say at this point, as voters are still getting to know Elizabeth Warren. Democratic strategists say Obama’s coattails won’t be enough to get her into the winner’s circle in an election where the moderate Brown has crossover appeal with conservative and working-class Democrats. (He currently holds a one-point lead in the RCP Average.)

But to succeed in what figures to be one of the most competitive and expensive Senate races in the country, and to combat critics who say she is out of touch with Massachusetts voters, those party insiders say Warren needs to both recall her White House work on behalf of consumers and talk about how hard she worked to climb that ladder.

“Where Elizabeth Warren can meet and beat Scott Brown is in the fact that she has walked in people’s shoes,” says Mary Anne Marsh, a Boston-based Democratic strategist, referring to Warren’s upbringing in Oklahoma, where her parents held working-class jobs, and her experience as a single mother for a short time. Warren left George Washington University at 19 to marry her high school sweetheart (the marriage would end 10 years later), and had the first of two children at the age of 22. She later finished college in Houston and eventually earned a law degree at Rutgers. She practiced law from home while her children were young, then started teaching. She has been at Harvard for 15 years.

“She needs to tell the story about the first part of her life even more than she has been because there are a lot of un-enrolled women in this state who will determine this election who are now going through the same things she went through earlier in her life,” Marsh says. “If she has the ability to connect with them on a personal level and then show them how she can go to Washington and make a difference in their lives based on her experience, then I think that can make all the difference in this race.”

After greeting her volunteers here on Sunday morning, Warren walks around the neighborhood with her husband (Bruce Mann, whom she wed in 1980), knocking on doors. At one home, a woman holding a sleepy-eyed baby girl answers the door. In a soft voice, Warren introduces herself, and soon the child is nestled on Warren’s right hip and snuggling against her arm.

The candidate presses her nose to the baby’s, and tells the mother that children’s futures are at stake. “This is why I’m running for office,” she says.

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Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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