Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

Democrat Elizabeth Warren begins 2020 run, ignoring ancestry row

Ms Warren is embroiled in a controversy over her claim to Native American roots

Democratic United States Senator Elizabeth Warren arrives with her husband Bruce Mann to Everett Mills where she announced her candidacy for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. EPA
Democratic United States Senator Elizabeth Warren arrives with her husband Bruce Mann to Everett Mills where she announced her candidacy for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. EPA

Democrat Elizabeth Warren officially began her 2020 White House run on Saturday 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".

"Millions of families can barely breathe," Ms Warren said, in a speech that struck aggressively populist and unapologetic left-leaning notes. "It is not right."

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

The Democratic field is already the party's most diverse — in gender, age and ethnic background — and one of its more progressive. It includes several well-known women politicians, with Senator Amy Klobuchar expected to join them on Sunday.

Ms Warren's past battles with Wall Street have brought her a large following, and her campaign team has drawn the grudging respect of its rivals. Hoping to ride the momentum of her Lawrence speech, she heads next to early-voting Iowa and New Hampshire, then to five other states.

It is unclear how badly damaged Ms Warren is by the controversy over her claim to Native American roots — a claim Mr 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 American blood, dating back generations. Ms Warren ultimately apologised 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 Ms Warren listed her race as "American Indian".

Mr Trump's re-election campaign issued a dismissive statement before Ms 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.

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

The 69-year-old senator 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.

But Ms 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 new US leadership — though she called the Trump administration "the most corrupt in living memory".

Warren said she would press for steeper taxes on the rich, strong anti-corruption legislation, curbs on lobbyists and a defence of climate. She also supports universal health care.

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.

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

Cluverius of University of Massachusetts Lowell 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.

Ms Warren recounted her decision to go to law school when Amelia was not quite two years old, but said the only day care she could find — with five days before classes were to start — would take the child only if potty-trained.

A determined Ms 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.'" .

Updated: February 10, 2019 09:46 AM