Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on Monday morning announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee, taking a major step toward what now seems like an inevitable bid for the White House.
In making the move, Warren leapfrogs other potential candidates in the Democratic field who have hinted at running but have not taken as concrete a step to doing so. The Massachusetts Democrat just won her second term in the Senate in November. And though she was widely expected to announce a presidential bid, her announcement places her further along than others in the progressive lane, most notably Sen. Bernie Sanders.
In a letter to her email list—which is widely regarded as one of the largest in Democratic politics—Warren portrayed her decision as an extension of her life story, one that saw her emerge from a poor upbringing in Oklahoma to the heights of academia at Harvard, to the top stage in national politics, first as a champion of consumer rights and then as a senator.
“I’m forever grateful that I got a chance to go to college for $50 a semester, a chance that opened a million doors for me. I’m grateful, and I’m determined. That’s why I fight my heart out so that everyone gets a real chance in life, a chance to build something solid, a chance to create their piece of the American dream,” the email reads. “And that’s why today, I’m launching an exploratory committee for president in 2020.”
The senator said she will decide formally on running for president sometime early next year. An exploratory committee allows her to raise money and gauge interest before she officially does so.
Warren’s email on Monday was accompanied by a well-produced launch video that provided telling hints about the campaign she seems to be planning to run. The footage leans heavily on biography, sewing her own story into a case for why politics is rigged in favor of the wealthy: from the assaults on unions to the tax cuts bestowed upon the well-connected.
“America’s middle class is under attack,” Warren says from a kitchen setting. “How did we get here? Billionaires and big corporations decided they wanted more of the pie and they enlisted politicians to cut them a fatter slice.”
There is no mention of Donald Trump in the video. Indeed, the president only makes two brief cameos over the four-and-a-half minute clip—suggesting that the senator sees more upside in making her own case for election rather than presenting herself as a counterweight to the current White House occupant.
But Trump’s impact is felt in subtler ways. Warren has been a favorite target of his, owing to her claims of having Native American heritage on her paper work to serve on Harvard’s faculty. The senator has never wavered in her insistence that she is a distant descendant of Cherokee and Delaware tribes and definitive reporting has shown that her heritage played no role in her hiring. But Trump has still repeatedly dubbed her “Pocahontas.” And an attempt by Warren to bury the issue by taking a DNA test and producing a video biography sparked backlash from Cherokee Nation, which accused her of making inappropriate claims of heritage.
At a commencement address at Morgan State University this December, Warren seemed to try to atone for the episode. “I’m not a person of color,” she declared. “And I haven't lived your life or experienced anything like the subtle prejudice, or more overt harm, that you may have experienced just because of the color of your skin.”
In her video announcing her exploratory committee, the Senator tried out a similar line.
“Working families today face a lot tougher path than I did,” Warren declares. “And families of color face a path that is steeper and rockier. A path made even harder by the impact of generations of discrimination.”
Warren is likely to be joined in the exploratory phase of a presidential bid soon. In addition to Sanders, several other Senators are weighing bids, including Kamala Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). They could also be joined by former Vice President Joe Biden, Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), impeachment advocate and Democratic donor Tom Steyer, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Faced with such a crowded field, Warren will have to lean on her grassroots fundraising capacity to financially support her bid. The senator is a prodigious fundraiser already and her email makes a solicitation to recipients alongside a note, at the bottom, that she will continue her policy of not taking money from lobbyists or corporate Political Action Committees.
“I don’t have binders full of bankers and CEOs to call for ginormous checks to launch this committee–in fact, most of them aren’t going to like what I’m doing and will probably spend their money somewhere else,” Warren says in her email. “That’s OK by me.”