'The fight of my life': Elizabeth Warren kicks off 2020 bid in Iowa

The Massachusetts Democrat is off and running in the race to face Donald Trump for the White House

Elizabeth Warren has been criticized by her opponents as “out of touch”, but the Massachusetts senator’s message seemed to resonate with voters in Iowa as she officially kicked off the presidential campaign she announced this week.

“What’s happening to working families in America?” she asked an enthusiastic crowd of about 500 in Council Bluffs, a city of 62,000 straddling the Iowa-Nebraska border.

“Why has America’s middle class been hollowed out? What’s happening to opportunity in this country? Why is the path so rocky for so many people, and so much rockier for people of color? Why has this happened in America?”

The Democrat, whose criticism of big banks and corporations has made her a progressive star, was appearing as part of a five-city tour across the crucial state over the weekend. She was also scheduled to stop in Sioux City, Storm Lake, Des Moines and Ankeny.

It was a strong introduction to the state which will host the first Democratic contest of the 2020 race 13 months from now. It was also an opportunity for the senator, who seems more comfortable talking about the intricacies of policy than she does politicking, to get a head start over what is expected to be a crowded field.

“This is the fight of my life,” she said. “I picked it because it picked me.”

She got a warm reception on Friday at McCoy’s, a bowling alley bar in spitting distance of the interstate that leads in and out of town. An enthusiastic crowd of 300 packed the bar’s event room on an unseasonably warm January evening, with 200 others forced to watch from outside. Warren addressed the latter briefly in the parking lot before her speech.

“We are in this fight together, all the way,” she said.

The senator stuck to a populist tone upon taking the stage, telling her audience that problems both at home and abroad in America “intersect in a Washington that is working for the wealthy and well-connected”, and is worse off for it.

“Right now, government works great for giant drug companies – it just doesn’t work great for people trying to fill prescriptions,” Warren said. “It works great for giant oil companies that want to drill everywhere – it just doesn’t work great for families who want kids who can actually breathe the air. It works great for giant financial companies like Equifax – it just doesn’t work for people whose social security numbers get stolen.

“That’s the difference in America,” Warren continued. “It is an America right now that works for the rich and the powerful. And we need to call that out for what it is: corruption, pure and simple.”

It was on message for the former Harvard law professor, who has made economic populism the focus of her public service. Now 69, she spearheaded the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and has been a reliable critic of Donald Trump. Trump, of course, has hit right back, frequently mocking Warren as “Pocahontas”, which she and Native American leaders have slammed as a “racial slur.”

And yet, her response to such racist bullying has created a significant question mark over her presidential bid. In October, Warren released the results of a DNA test that revealed she had distant Native American heritage, a move aimed at silencing the president’s taunts and disproving claims she falsely claimed Cherokee and Delaware tribe heritage in the past. But the move was widely criticized, including by Native American groups, as racist and for its apparent ignorance of the racist history of blood tests.

On Friday night, neither the president’s taunts nor Warren’s unfortunate response came up. Instead, Warren described growing up in Oklahoma with a father put out of work by a heart attack and a mother who sacrificed a great deal to make ends meet.

“If you want to know who I am, that story is etched on my heart, and always will be,” she said, offering a sort of origin story.

Warren mostly stuck to the domestic issues for which she’s most known, delivering impassioned, convincing monologues on everything from healthcare to student loan debt to prescription drug prices to the minimum wage.

“When I was a kid, a minimum wage in America would support a family of three,” she said. “It would pay a mortgage, keep the utilities on, and put food on the table. Today, a minimum wage job in America will not keep a momma and a baby out of poverty. Think about that difference. Because for me, that’s what this is all about.”

Warren speaks to potential voters.
Warren speaks to potential voters. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

During a question-and-answer session, Warren moved on to foreign affairs, expressing concern about the “rise of autocracies” around the world and the Trump administration’s hardline immigration policies, including the separations of children from their families.

“It was unbelievable,” she said of a recent trip to the border, where she saw migrants held in cages.

“We cannot give up the dream of comprehensive immigration reform,” Warren said, to applause. “We have to have an immigration system that understands the difference between the threat posed by criminals and terrorists and nine-year-old girls.

“We need to be committed to a system that keeps us safe, and a system that is consistent with our values.”

The message seemed to appeal to those in attendance, many of whom remain undecided.

“I like what I heard,” said Sara Madison, a substitute teacher in Council Bluffs. “She doesn’t seem like she’s only invested in Washington.”

Attendees expressed concern about their and their children’s futures and identified with Warren’s populist rallying cry as a possible way forward in the fight against Trump.

“She’s the voice of the real middle class,” said Ashanti Scates, a veteran and mother of two from Omaha, Nebraska, just over the river, who has been a fan since Warren entered the Senate in 2013. “The everyday Americans.”


Eric Lutz in Council Bluffs, Iowa

The GuardianTramp

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