Democrat Elizabeth Warren was set Saturday to officially kick off her 2020 White House run with a pledge to defend working Americans, even as a bitter row over her Native American ancestry threatens to nip her campaign in the bud.
The Massachusetts senator — who 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.
But it remains 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” and alleging she lied about her origins for professional benefit.
Hoping to put the controversy to rest, she released DNA tests in October — but this backfired when they showed her to have only negligible amounts of Native blood, dating back at least six generations.
Warren ultimately apologized for her claims to the Cherokee Nation.
But the matter reared its head again this week when The Washington Post published what it said was an official document dating from the 1980s in which Warren listed her race as “American Indian.”
Conservative commentators say Warren thus disqualified herself even before her announcement.
“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.”
Warren’s announcement is set for 11:00 am (1600 GMT) in Lawrence, Massachusetts, a former mill town where a group of women workers, including many immigrants, once launched a strike seen as a victory for women and for labor.
The senator tweeted her excitement early Saturday, saying, “Woo-hoo! My whole family is here” and ready to drive to Lawrence.
The site was carefully chosen by the 69-year-old senator, who has made the protection of workers and middle-class rights the central pillar of her political message.
In the Senate, she played a leading role in creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a bugbear of Wall Street financiers.
Lawrence, once in the heart of a bustling US textile industry, has for years fallen on hard times as foreign competition and rising productivity saw the loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs — a theme Trump successfully exploited in his 2016 campaign.
With a population nearly 80 percent Hispanic and the self-declared status of a “sanctuary city” that limits cooperation with federal immigration agents, Lawrence is the sort of city Trump often derides.
But Warren’s introductory message is expected to be unapologetic.
Beyond her focus on Wall Street, she favors a universal health care system, a higher minimum wage and a defense of the climate.
Warren regularly points to her own humble origins in arguing that the American Dream needs a revival.
Cluverius says Warren will have to rely on Hispanic support if she is to win in Democratic primary contests, since two popular African Americans — Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker — are also in the crowded field.
Other possible Democratic candidates include former vice president Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Yet another Democratic senator, Amy Klobuchar, has promised a “major announcement” on Sunday.
Trump suggested in a tweet Saturday that the Democrats might as well not bother.
“The Dems are trying to win an election in 2020 that they know they cannot legitimately win!” he said.