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Senate hopeful Warren vows to help middle class

Sep 14, 2011, 12:15 p.m.
Elizabeth Warren speaks with voters as she campaigns after announcing her candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Framingham, Massachusetts, September 14, 2011. REUTERS/Adam Hunger

By Ros Krasny

FRAMINGHAM, Ma. (Reuters) - Consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren took the message that made her unpopular with Wall Street to Massachusetts voters on Wednesday as she began her U.S. Senate campaign vowing to fight for the middle class.

"Washington gives some of the biggest corporations in the world special loopholes and tax breaks, while middle-class families and small businesses struggle," Warren said.

A Harvard Law School professor who created the Obama administration's new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Warren hopes to unseat popular Republican Scott Brown in what could be the most closely watched congressional race of 2012.

"Middle class families have been chipped at, hacked at, squeezed and hammered for a generation now, and I don't think Washington gets it," Warren said. "I think this is past labels. This is about a core set of values.

Warren, 62, started the day greeting commuters at a train station in South Boston. She later talked to customers at a diner in Framingham, west of Boston, for over an hour -- one of at least six campaign stops planned in the next two days.

The candidate was greeted with enthusiasm.

"She is intelligent and has a very good understanding of the special interests in this country. She's a breath of fresh air," said Ellen Courchene, a retired guidance counselor from Wayland, Massachusetts.

Before facing Brown, Warren must defeat several Democratic opponents in a primary election in September 2012.

Brown, a former state legislator, won the Senate seat in a special election in 2010 following Kennedy's death from brain cancer. His campaign was boosted by millions of dollars from conservative groups outside the state. A one-time Cosmopolitan magazine centerfold, Brown has spun his upset victory into a high national profile and has a sizable warchest.

"I can be outspent, but I can't be outworked," Warren told reporters.

A former public school and Methodist Sunday school teacher, Warren has hardscrabble roots in Oklahoma, where her father worked as a janitor and her family struggled during the Great Depression. Warren began waiting tables at age 13 to help out.

"I know what it's like to live one payslip or one bad diagnosis away from having your life turned upside down," she said. "I've been fighting for the middle class all my life."

The prolific author twice named among Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential people in the World has the highest profile of Democrats vying to recapture the Senate seat held by liberal icon Edward Kennedy for more than four decades.

NO FRIEND OF WALL STREET

After the 2008 financial crisis, Warren led a panel created by Congress to examine how bank bailout money was being spent and went on to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, often locking horns with Wall Street.

She is a bankruptcy expert and has been an outspoken advocate for cracking down on abusive practices concerning credit cards and pay-day loans.

"I've stood up to some pretty powerful interests. Those interests are going to line up against this campaign," she said.

Fierce opposition from Republicans in Congress are thought to have stopped President Barack Obama from nominating Warren to run the consumer agency, and she left his administration.

Cornelius Hurley, a law professor at Boston University, said Warren would face challenges in a general election.

"She will have to distance herself from the failing Obama/Geithner economic record -- including the deeply flawed Dodd-Frank Act that created the consumer agency she championed but was deemed too polarizing to lead," Hurley said.

But Warren said she was not worried about being linked to Obama, who is expected to face a tough 2012 re-election fight.

"I'm my own person, and I've been talking about my set of issues for a long time," Warren said.

(Editing by Anthony Boadle and Doina Chiacu)

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