Elizabeth Warren: Carries the torch of economic populism in 2020 but can't shake ancestry controversy

The setting for Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSusan Rice sees stock rise in Biden VP race The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden chips away at Trump's fundraising advantage Warnock raises almost M in Georgia Senate race in second quarter MORE's (D-Mass.) formal kickoff of her presidential campaign was appropriate for a woman who wages a battle for economic populism against corporate greed. The location was an old mill in Lawrence,  Massachusetts. The mills in Lawrence were the setting for the famous Bread and Rose strike in 1912. Thousands of mill workers, mostly women went on strike there to demand higher wages and better working conditions.

Warren recounted the city's "history of working people coming together to make change, where the fight was hard, the battle was uphill, and where a group of women led the charge for all of us."


Today, Lawrence like many other factory towns in the Northeast and the Midwest is struggling economically after corporate America abandoned the United States and offshored American jobs in the pursuit of profits over patriotism.

Warren hopes to win the White House by building a bridge between the ascending Democratic coalition — millennials, women and minority voters — on one hand, and white voters in the industrial Midwest on the other. The latter have been left high and dry by Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump second-term plans remain a mystery to GOP Trump to hold outdoor rally in New Hampshire on Saturday Eighty-eight years of debt pieties MORE and his buddies in big business. 

Warren fought corporate greed and corruption before crusades against Wall Street were cool. She studied and battled corruption in the financial industry as a professor at the Harvard University Law School before she ran for the U.S. Senate. She used her academic prominence to call for the creation of a federal watchdog agency that would protect consumers against abuses by the financial industry on Wall Street. 

Warren was such a fierce advocate for consumer protection against corporate predation that she antagonized many Democrats. Congress created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2010 largely due to her initiative. But President Obama, bowing to the fears of his economic team full of Wall Street veterans, passed her over when it came time to appoint a leader for the agency she had fought for so hard to create.

Warren has a lot going for her but she has a big problem to go along with the advantages.


The problems surrounding her claim of Native American ancestry began during her successful campaign in 2012 to defeat then-GOP Sen. Scott Brown. Brown attacked her for using her claim to Native American ancestry to rise in the academic world but Warren said that she had not used to background to her advantage. 

Last week, the Washington Post reported that her application for the Texas Bar contradicted Warren's defense. The president mocks her as "Pocahontas" and she has become the target of several Trump tweets teasing her heritage. Trump knows better than anybody in American politics how to exploit a problem like this. Warren spent most of last week apologizing but the issue will dog her for the duration of her presidential campaign unless she finds to way to deal with the problem.

If she can defuse the controversy over her heritage, Warren could be the bridge between the warring wings within the Democratic Party. 

Any Democrat who wants to claim the Democratic standard in 2020 needs to appeal to both wings of the party, faithful to either Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: Unhappy voters could deliver political shocks beyond Trump Democratic senator will introduce bill mandating social distancing on flights after flying on packed plane Neil Young opposes use of his music at Trump Mount Rushmore event: 'I stand in solidarity with the Lakota Sioux' MORE (I-Vt.) or 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSusan Rice sees stock rise in Biden VP race Democrats try to turn now into November The Memo: Unhappy voters could deliver political shocks beyond Trump MORE. If the Democratic nominee is poison to Sanders' more liberal followers, there will ugly scenes at the Democratic National Convention, no show voters and some defectors to the Green Party.

Warren supported Clinton and, unlike Sanders, is an ardent Democrat. But there’s not a dime’s worth of difference in the stands between the positions of the two progressive senators. Warren is a fierce advocate of everything Sanders and his followers stand for. She aggressively supports his Medicare for All plan, his comprehensive job program and his stand to negate the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.


She enjoys a committed base of support from progressive activists which responded enthusiastically when they mounted a campaign to draft her to run for president in 2016. This network has allowed her to staff her campaign in key primary and caucus states and to raise the money she needs to win the Democratic nomination in 2020.

Warren is one of the frontrunners for the Democratic presidential nomination according to a new national poll by CNN. A third (33 percent) of the Democrats and independents who lean Democratic said they would be "very likely" to support her for president. Warren trailed only former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump second-term plans remain a mystery to GOP Susan Rice: Trump picks Putin over troops 'even when it comes to the blood of American service members' Does Donald Trump even want a second term? MORE (56 percent) and Sanders (46 percent).  

There are several Democratic hopefuls like Warren, Sanders and Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSenate Dems request briefing on Russian bounty wire transfers On The Money: Mnuchin, Powell differ over how soon economy will recover | Millions fear eviction without more aid from Congress | IRS chief pledges to work on tax code's role in racial wealth disparities IRS chief pledges to work with Congress on examining tax code's role in racial wealth disparities MORE of Ohio who can bear the torch of economic populism. Their dedication to economic concerns is a major roadblock to Trump’s return route to the White House.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also a senior adviser to, and editor of, the blog at MyTiller.com, a social media network for politics.

This is the second piece in a series of profiles by Bannon on 2020 Democratic hopefuls. Read the first profile on Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).