SIOUX CITY, IOWA >> Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is introducing herself to influential Iowa Democrats by telling her personal story of economic opportunity, trying to lay claim in the emerging 2020 presidential field as a champion for a middle class she says is withering under President Donald Trump.
On her first full day of campaigning in the kickoff caucus state, Warren said her mother’s minimum-wage job saved her family when Warren was a child, and enabled Warren’s career as a teacher, professor and now senator considering a presidential run.
“Today a minimum wage job in America full time will not keep a momma and a baby out of poverty,” Warren said at a rally in Sioux City. “And it is wrong, and that’s why I’m in this fight.”
A leading Democrat in the Senate, Warren has made a name for herself as an advocate for consumer protection and become a regular target of President Donald Trump. But her Iowa debut, beginning Friday evening and continuing across the state Saturday, offered the first glimpse of what she may look like as a 2020 candidate.
In this working-class city on Iowa’s western edge, Warren promoted an increased government role in assuring economic fairness.
“A lot of decisions that are made in far-off Washington are decisions that help the wealthy and the well-connected and leave everyone else behind,” she said. “We need to make structural change. Big change. We need to think big, fight hard.”
Warren strayed little from the theme during her short speech and question-and-answer session. More than 400 people crammed into the lobby of an ornately restored downtown theater for her appearance.
Even when Sioux City Democrat Tricia Currans-Sheehan asked her why she submitted to a DNA test after Trump questioned Warren’s claim of Native American ancestry, Warren shifted back to middle-class economics.
The test results suggested Warren could have had a Native American ancestor many generations ago, which she described as the difference between ancestry and having a connection to a tribe, something Warren says she never claimed.
Trying to stick to her message, she said, “What 2020 is going to be about is not about my family. It’s about the tens of millions of families across this country who just want a level playing field.”
Similarly, Warren refused to comment Friday on Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s profane call to impeach Trump. Warren instead urged Congress to act to protect the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Despite the friendly receptions Warren received, retired teacher Carla Hawkins of Council Bluffs was far from ready to commit.
“I’m ready for something good, something better,” she said. “But I still don’t know enough about Sen. Warren. And there are so many others looking into it. It’s too early for me to say.”
High school senior Maggie Bashore said she was curious, but looking for someone younger than Warren, who is 69.
“We need somebody who is focusing on our generation,” Bashore said. “We need someone who knows we’re going to be the ones taking care of the planet.”
Though Warren announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee Monday, the weekend events had all the trappings of a full-blown campaign.
Warren’s staff logged the names and contact information for those interested in more information. Warren herself said, “I want to run a grassroots campaign,” and urged attendees to volunteer and contribute money in small amounts.
Iowa’s caucuses, local political meetings held statewide and run by the party, are scheduled to begin the 2020 nominating campaign in February 2020.
Warren’s visit is an effort to gain an early advantage in the state. Other Democratic presidential prospects are expected to announce their plans in the coming weeks, and have been in touch for weeks with party leaders, activists and potential staff in Iowa.
Warren was scheduled to meet privately at a Democratic activist’s home in central Iowa before headlining a larger public event in the capital, Des Moines, on Saturday evening.