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Friday March 22nd, 2019 4:34AM

Sen. Warren's expected 2020 bid banking on populist appeal

By The Associated Press
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LAWRENCE, Mass. (AP) — Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren will enter the 2020 presidential contest Saturday, hoping a populist call to fight economic inequality will help distinguish her in a crowded field and enable her to move past the controversy surrounding her past claims to Native American heritage.

She planned a late morning announcement at a mill site in Lawrence where largely immigrant factory workers went on strike about 100 years ago, providing the longtime consumer advocate a forum to advance her platform. In a video released before the event, Warren cited Lawrence'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."

The 69-year-old was scheduled to later visit New Hampshire, home to the nation's first primary, where Warren could have an advantage as a neighboring-state resident with high name recognition. She intended to spend Sunday in Iowa, where the leadoff caucuses will be the first test of candidates' viability.

Warren was the first high-profile Democrat to signal interest in running for the White House, forming an exploratory committee on New Year's Eve.

She was to be introduced by Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., who intended to endorse her candidacy, according to an official familiar with his plans. The backing could prove valuable for Warren given his status as a rising young Democratic star and his friendship with her potential 2020 rival, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas.

The official was not authorized to publicly discuss details about the announcement before the event and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Warren would enter the race as one of the party's most recognizable figures. Warren has spent the past decade in the national spotlight, first emerging as a consumer activist during the financial crisis. She later led the congressional panel that oversaw the 2008 financial industry bailout. After Republicans blocked her from running the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency she helped create, she ran for the Senate in 2012 and unseated a GOP incumbent.

She has $11 million left over from her commanding 2018 Senate re-election victory that can be used on her presidential run.

Still, Warren would compete against other popular Democrats who will be able to raise substantial money. A recent CNN poll found that fewer Democrats said they'd be very likely to support Warren if she runs than said the same of former Vice President Joe Biden or Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Still, about as many Democrats said they'd be at least somewhat likely to support Warren as said the same of Harris or Sanders.

That challenge is on display this weekend as Democratic presidential contenders — or those considering a run — fan out across the crucial early-voting states. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker is in Iowa while New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is visiting South Carolina. Another possible presidential rival, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, planned to be in New Hampshire on Saturday.

The campaign launch comes at a challenging moment for Warren. She's apologized twice over the past two weeks for claiming Native American identity on multiple occasions early in her career, an episode that has created fodder for Republicans and could overshadow her campaign.

The expected launch will test whether the controversy is simply a Washington obsession or a substantive threat to her candidacy. Doug Rubin, a Boston-based strategist who advised Warren during her first Senate run in 2012, said in an interview that most voters will respond to "the powerful message she's been talking about," in terms of battling social and economic injustices, rather than the back-and-forth over her personal identity.

Another threat could come from a fellow senator who has yet to announce his own plans for 2020: Sanders. They're both leaders of the Democrats' liberal vanguard, but some Sanders supporters are still upset she didn't support him during his 2016 primary challenge against Hillary Clinton. And as a senator from Vermont who won the New Hampshire primary, he would likely go into the Granite State as an early favorite if he decided to run again.

Despite their similarities, Warren and Sanders have taken somewhat divergent paths in recent months as they prepare for the primary. After proposing an "ultra-millionaire tax" that would hit the wealthiest 75,000 households in America, Warren told Bloomberg News last week that she continues to "believe in capitalism" but wants to see stricter rules to prevent gaming the system — a marked contrast with the self-described democratic socialism of Sanders.

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