U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, struggling to move past criticism over her claims of Native American heritage, aimed for a fresh start on Saturday with the formal launch of her 2020 presidential campaign, saying that she is fighting for all Americans.
The Massachusetts Democrat, a leader of the party's progressive wing, made her announcement from a historic site in Lawrence, northwest of Boston, that launched the U.S. organized labor movement. Warren, 69, has made worker rights, fair wages and access to health care central to her campaign.
"This is the fight of our lives. The fight to build an America where dreams are possible, an America that works for everyone," Warren said. "And that is why I stand here today: to declare that I am a candidate for President of the United States of America."
Warren is part of an increasingly crowded and diverse field of Democrats vying for the chance to challenge President Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee. A year before any ballots are cast in a Democratic primary, many of those candidates are spending this weekend talking to voters in the early-nominating states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Warren's announcement will be followed on Sunday by U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who has said she will reveal her presidential plans in her home state of Minnesota.
Warren picked up the endorsement of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) simultaneously with her launch - a group that could pump millions of dollars behind her candidacy and provide an outside attack dog against her Democratic opponents.
"We believe that Elizabeth Warren is the most electable Democrat and the best person to be president to defeat Trump," Adam Green, the co-founder of PCCC, said.
Warren's heritage claims have dogged her since her first campaign for the Senate in 2012, and Trump mockingly refers to her as "Pocahontas." Her ancestry drew fresh scrutiny earlier this week with the discovery that she described her race as American Indian on a form to join the Texas legal bar in the 1980s.
Warren has repeatedly apologized, saying the claim was based on "family lore" and she now understands tribal sovereignty dictates membership.
Trump's campaign described Warren as a "fraud." A statement from his campaign manager Brad Parscale said, "The American people will reject her dishonest campaign."
In addition to being a fierce Trump critic, Warren is an outspoken critic of Wall Street who gained national notoriety for her efforts to create the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to regulate large banks.
Warren is one of four women so far seeking the Democratic nomination, an unprecedented number of female candidates vying to lead a country that has never had a woman chief executive.
Warren and the other women running so far, among whom are Senators Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand, are hoping to build on the success of women candidates who played a significant role in Democrats regaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives in November's congressional elections.
"I like her anger," said Christiane Alsop, who has donated to Warren's previous campaigns and is backing her presidential bid. "I like her fighting spirit."
Warren heads next to Iowa, where fellow Democratic contenders U.S. Senator Cory Booker and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, campaigned on Friday.
"I am running for president right now because I believe Americans have surrendered to cynicism," Booker said at an event in Waterloo, Iowa. “I want to see a revival of civic grace."
A centerpiece of Warren’s campaign will be mitigating income inequality, and what she called “a system that has been rigged by the wealthy and the well-connected.”
Warren spoke at the site of the “Bread and Roses” strike of 1912, which pitted thousands of textile workers, most of them women and many of them immigrants, against mill owners in a dispute over pay and working conditions that ended with the state becoming the first in the U.S. to pass a minimum wage law.
‘We Fight Together’
“The story of Lawrence is a story about how real change happens in America. It’s a story about power -- our power --when we fight together,” she said.
“When government works only for the wealthy and well-connected, that is corruption -- plain and simple. It’s time to fight back,” Warren said. “Corruption is a cancer on our democracy. And we will get rid of it only with strong medicine -- with real, structural reform.”
Warren was introduced on Saturday by Representative Joe Kennedy III, grandson of former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and part of the new generation of the most prominent Democratic family in Massachusetts and arguably the U.S.
Warren set up an exploratory committee on Dec. 31 to consider a run, though there was little doubt she’d follow through with a formal campaign. Since then, she’s sought to correct an early stumble by apologizing to the Cherokee Nation for claiming she’s part Native American.
“While it probably would have been more helpful to respond more quickly after hearing how her response impacted folks in the Native American community, it’s never too late to do the right thing,” said Neil Sroka, a spokesman for the activist group Democracy For America.
Pack of Senators
Three of her fellow senators also are running -- Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey -- with others actively considering it. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar is set to announce her plans on Sunday. Warren’s campaign team said she plans to follow the announcement with trips to Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Georgia, Nevada, and California, early or important states that will help pick the Democratic nominee.
A challenge for Warren, 69, a regular target of Trump’s attacks, is to prove to a Democratic base desperate to defeat Trump that she won’t fail them. In a recent Monmouth University poll, 56 percent of Democrats said they’d prefer a candidate who can defeat the president over one who agrees with them on most issues, while 33 percent said they’d go with a candidate they mostly agree with but would have a harder time defeating Trump.
Tax the Rich
Closing the gap between the country’s rich and poor, a pursuit of Warren’s that dates back to her time as a Harvard law professor, is set to be a dominant theme of her campaign. She recently unveiled a proposal that pushes the frontier to a new place: directly taxing the very rich. Her new plan would impose an annual 2 percent levy on wealth above $50 million, rising to 3 percent on assets above $1 billion.
“It’s about dealing with extreme concentrations of wealth,” said Stephanie Kelton, a professor at Stony Brook University in New York and former senior economic adviser to the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who’s considering another run for the Democratic nomination. “There is an awareness that income and wealth inequality has reached levels that Democrats want to interrupt.”
Warren’s said she’d put the revenue raised by a tax on the ultra-wealthy toward programs to cut student debt and expand access to child care.
A survey by Politico/Morning Consult found that Warren’s tax idea is backed by 61 percent of Americans and opposed by 20 percent. Even among Republicans, 50 percent support it while 30 percent oppose it. An Economist/YouGov poll found that 50 percent of Americans support the idea while 23 percent oppose it; among Republicans, 46 percent favor it and 35 percent reject it.
In a presidential field that’s shaping up to be large, Warren’s grasp of pocketbook issues that affect voters is likely to be her main strength in attracting the Democratic activist base.
“In this environment when you have potentially 20 candidates running, everyone’s grasping for that policy that appeals to that most active part of the base, which is the most progressive wing of the base,” said Adrienne Elrod, who served as a spokeswoman for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a group which says it has nearly one million members nationally that it can mobilize, quickly endorsed Warren. “We believe she’ll be the most electable Democrat, and the best president, for America,” Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of PCCC, said in a statement.
Reuters and Bloomberg News contributed to this report.