Harvard Law School professor and consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren officially launched her Democratic campaign for the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, hoping for a chance to take on Republican Sen. Scott Brown in next year’s election.
Warren, who greeted commuters at a subway station in Boston before embarking on a tour of the state, cast herself as fighter for the middle class, saying she’s “stood up to some pretty tough folks over the past few years.”
“There’s been a lot of very powerful interests who have tried to shut me down, squeeze me, push me sideways and so far it just hasn’t worked,” Warren said. “I’m willing to throw my body in front of a bus to try to stop bad ideas that are going to be harmful to the middle class.”
Warren was heavily courted by Democrats hoping to win back the seat long held by Sen. Edward Kennedy, who died in 2009 after a long battle with brain cancer. Democrats also are trying to hold on to their narrow Senate majority by ousting Brown.
Warren was tapped by President Barack Obama last year to set up a new consumer protection agency, but congressional Republicans opposed her leading the office. She returned to Massachusetts this summer.
Supporters say her image as a crusader against well-heeled Wall Street interests and her national profile will give her candidacy muscle, though she’s never run for political office.
Some Democrats, including Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, have voiced skepticism about how strong a candidate she will be, given her lack of political experience.
Brown said that it was no secret he was going to have a Democratic opponent and that they would all have to get through the Democratic primary first before the general election in 2012.
“I hope they will talk about the issues and not engage in mudslinging,” he said Wednesday. “I will be ready. I won’t change anything I am doing. I will be here working my tail off, and I will be the same independent vote that I have been.”
Republicans have already branded Warren as a liberal academic from Cambridge whose Harvard ties put her out of touch with working families. They’ve also mocked her as an outsider whose roots are in Oklahoma, where she grew up, and not Massachusetts.
Warren has lived in Massachusetts for nearly two decades and said what’s most important is what’s in a candidate’s heart.
“People just want to know … are you there for big corporations? Are you there for families like mine?” she said. “I think people know where I’m really from.”
Democratic leaders are banking that her national profile will help her raise the money needed to topple Brown, who has more than $10 million in his campaign account.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a national liberal group that has been raising money for Warren, announced it has already pulled in more than $285,000.
A recent Boston Globe poll showed Brown as the most popular major politician in the traditionally Democratic state. Brown shocked the political establishment by beating Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley in last year’s special election to succeed Kennedy. He was a little-known state senator who cast himself as a moderate, an average guy with his trademark barn coat and pickup truck. He once posed as a Cosmopolitan magazine centerfold.
Warren has spent the past several weeks meeting with party activists and voters.
Commuters who shook hands with Warren said they were keeping an open mind.
“I’m still waiting to see what she has to say, how she plays out against the other Democratic candidates,” said Kinzel, an independent voter. “There’s still a long way to go.”
Chad Capellman, a website manager from Quincy, said he’s impressed with Warren’s fighting spirit.
“I can tell just from everything I’ve seen and heard and what she’s put up with in Washington that there’s something different about her,” he said. “It sounds like a ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ kind of thing.”
The 1939 Oscar-winning movie, starring James Stewart, tells the story of a Washington outsider appointed to the U.S. Senate who refuses to back down when surrounded by corruption.
Other Democrats already announced include Setti Warren, no relation to the consumer advocate, the first-term mayor of the affluent Boston suburb of Newton and the state’s first popularly elected black mayor; City Year youth program co-founder Alan Khazei; immigration attorney Marisa DeFranco; state Rep. Tom Conroy; Newton resident Herb Robinson; and Robert Massie, who unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor in 1994.