After Rough Week, Warren Prepares Launch of Presidential Campaign in Town Rife With Symbolism

Elizabeth Warren
Elizabeth Warren / Getty Images
February 8, 2019

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) is expected to officially announce her bid for the presidency on Saturday in a city rife with significant symbols for her candidacy, while carrying political weight that is all too real.

The progressive darling, smarting from a week of difficult questions and another apology for calling her race "American Indian," will speak on the steps of Everett Mills, the site of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike, in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Warren's choice of site is a clear nod to her campaign message of a system rigged by powerful elites and corporations against the middle and working classes.

"Lawrence has a 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," Warren said in a video promoting her announcement.

Protesting a reduction in wages after the enforcement of a state law mandating women work a maximum of 54 hours a week, textile workers staged walkouts that spread around Lawrence in 1912. Considered a landmark moment for unions, the strike received national attention and eventually prompted federal investigations into brutal working conditions and pay raises for workers around New England.

It is not only Lawrence's connection to labor history that makes the city appealing for Warren to officially launch her campaign. Nearly 80 percent of the population in Lawrence is Hispanic, and nearly 40 percent is foreign-born, according to the Boston Globe. Democratic Mayor Dan Rivera praised Warren's selection of his city, which he said is dealing with many of the key issues Washington is trying to tackle, such as the opioid crisis and expanding affordable health care.

After her speech in Lawrence, Warren will head that same afternoon to an organizing event in Dover, New Hampshire. She will travel to Iowa on Sunday and make visits to South Carolina, Georgia, Nevada, and California in the coming weeks. Details on her trips to the latter four states have not been released by her staff.

Warren is counting on performing well in next year's primary in New Hampshire, where Democrats have tended to favor candidates from nearby states in open primary years. Recent winners include Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016; Hillary Clinton, then a New York senator, in 2008; and then-Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry in 2004. Only Kerry went on to win the party's nomination out of those three.

Warren will not go into her presidential announcement with the wind at her back, however.

Following the formation of a presidential exploratory committee on Dec. 31, Warren had a successful first month on the campaign trail, making well-received trips to Iowa and New Hampshire with her message of taking on a corrupt political and economic system.

Warren frequently invokes her background of growing up in Oklahoma and recounts the emotional story of how her mother saved the family. When she was 12, her 50-year-old father suffered a near fatal heart attack and their family nearly lost their home. Warren recalls how her mother, crying, put on her best dress, insisted they would not lose their home, and found a minimum-wage job that ultimately kept them afloat.

But it is the story of Warren's family that also had the 2020 candidate facing fresh questions about her credibility this week.

Warren has often spoken of how her parents eloped after her father's family disapproved of his future wife's Native American lineage, but Warren for years could never produce documentation to bolster her claims. In 2012, her run for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts was overshadowed by reporting that she was listed for years as a minority in the Association of American Law Schools directory and as Native American while teaching law at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania.

President Donald Trump frequently derided Warren as "Pocahontas" beginning in 2016 when she would blast the then-Republican nominee, and she eventually released a DNA test showing she had a distant Native American ancestor to try to quell the controversy.

The story got fresh legs this week when the Washington Post reported on a 1986 University of Texas state bar registration card on which she wrote her race was "American Indian," leading to another apology from Warren.

"I can't go back," Warren told the Post. "But I am sorry for furthering confusion on tribal sovereignty and tribal citizenship and harm that resulted."

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Warren could not say whether she had listed her race as American Indian on other forms at the time.

"All I know is, during this time period, this is consistent with what I did because it was based on my understanding from my family's stories, but family stories are not the same as tribal citizenship," Warren said. "This is why I have apologized."

The senator's latest round of apologies followed her telling Cherokee Nation's principal chief, Bill John Baker, that she was sorry for releasing the DNA test that purportedly vindicated her decades-long claims of Native American ancestry.

Warren rolled out the DNA test results in October, along with a slickly produced video that took on Trump's "Pocahontas" taunts head-on.

But the splashy political stunt backfired. Warren took heat for not only the distant nature of her relative—by her own admission, she could be as little as 1/1,024th Native American—but also for delving into the world of race science and seemingly playing into Trump's hands. Warren insisted all along that she was not a member of a tribe and tribes alone determine those affiliations.

How much effect the negative headlines will have on her in a crowded field will likely depend on how, or whether, Warren can put the controversy behind her.