AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is among the first out of the gate with an eye towards 2020. Warren announced an exploratory bid for president and laid out a populist campaign message focused on economics.
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ELIZABETH WARREN: I never thought I would run for anything, ever, in my life. But America's middle class is getting hollowed out and opportunity for too many of our young people is shrinking. So I'm in this fight all the way.
CORNISH: She's expected to be one of the most high-profile Democrats in a large field of primary candidates vying to take on President Trump. NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid joins us from Cambridge, Mass. Warren spoke there this afternoon. And, Asma, this is not exactly a surprise, right? People have been talking about Warren running. So what did she say about why she wants to run?
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Well, you're right. There wasn't really much of a surprise here. Her message really has essentially been about the economy and economic fairness. She feels the middle class is under attack largely because of big corporations. And, you know, this is a message that she has been laser-focused on for years, even when she was a law professor. And she really became, I would say, a liberal icon even before she entered the Senate, when she helped launch the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That was in the wake of the 2008 recession. And during the Senate, this is also again something she would come back to. She's probably best-known for how aggressively she would grill bank executives.
CORNISH: What are some of her biggest challenges?
KHALID: So, you know, Audie, she's seen as a polarizing figure, I would say, even by some Democrats. And for conservatives, you know, they have this image that they've created of her as a Harvard elitist. And a lot of why she has these enemies, I would say, particularly on the conservative side, is because, again, of her work to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This is one of her achievements that she's most proud of. You know, she talks about this and has talked about this many times to her supporters. But it's something that people see as rather polarizing.
Another issue is that she has limited foreign policy experience. But, Audie, I want to point out, that's really a challenge for a lot of the Democrats interested in running this year. So I'm not clear that that'll actually hurt her.
CORNISH: There were progressive activists who wanted her to run in 2016. Did she talk about why she waited until now?
KHALID: There was really a big push for her to enter the race ahead of the 2016 election. Her hometown paper, The Boston Globe, even ran this editorial with a headline saying, "Democrats Need Elizabeth Warren's Voice In 2016 Presidential Race." Now the paper is suggesting that maybe she missed her moment. And, you know, also even, I would say, among her constituents, there's really mixed feelings. People will say, I like her as my senator but I don't think she should run for president. And polling shows this, too.
You know, one of the big questions also is whether there will be support for her among these really progressive left groups. Democracy for America, for example, had encouraged her to run in 2014, 2015. This time around, they tell me, there's so many good progressives that they're not even sure that they will endorse in the primaries. This is really an open contest. So the question for Senator Warren is whether she'll have the support of the very progressives who had encouraged her to run before.
CORNISH: In the meantime, she's sparred with President Trump a lot. Tell us more about the dynamic as she looks to take him on in a campaign.
KHALID: Well, I would say let's start first, probably, with the infamous nickname that President Trump has for her. He calls her Pocahontas. And this goes back to accusations from her first run for the Senate in 2012. At that time, her Republican opponent had claimed that she misrepresented her ancestry. Warren has long said that she really does have these Native American roots, and she took a DNA test to essentially quell the criticism, but it essentially backfired a lot for her.
You know, I think one thing that we should point out is that she's not been afraid to go after Trump. But today, Audie, in her video to supporters, and when she talked to reporters, she didn't really criticize him much. She tried to hone in on this message of economic stability and point out that this is about the middle class, it's not really just about him.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Asma Khalid. Thank you.
KHALID: You're welcome.
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