Senate Hopeful Elizabeth Warren Blasts a 'Rigged' System

Harvard professor paints herself as champion of the working class.

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Democrats have clearly targeted women and Hispanics at their 2012 convention. Tonight, Elizabeth Warren delivered a passionate speech with the aim of capturing another group of voters for the president: the middle class.

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The Massachusetts Senate candidate painted a picture of a vast swath of average Americans whose quality of life has slipped due to Wall Street shenanigans—and who need President Obama to help bring them back.

"I grew up in an America that invested in its kids and built a strong middle class," she said, contrasting that idyllic portrait with a grimmer present-day picture. "But for many years now, our middle class has been chipped, squeezed, and hammered."

Warren referred to the plights of the unemployed and students burdened with loans, and pivoted to shift the blame for a flagging middle class to wealthy business forces like oil companies and Wall Street CEOs.

"People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here's the painful part: They're right. The system is rigged," she said to a round of applause.

Central to Warren's speech was a point that has become central to the president's campaign: that Republican nominee Mitt Romney does not relate to the problems of average Americans.

"After all, Mitt Romney's the guy who said corporations are people. No, Governor Romney, corporations are not people," said Warren. "People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance. They live, they love, and they die."

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In contrast, she spoke of Obama as a fair leader who "believes in a level playing field" and "a country where nobody gets a free ride or a golden parachute."

Warren is no stranger to the national stage; as the driving force behind the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, she was one of the most visible faces in an effort to reform financial regulations after the crisis. This ability to reach out to the average American is why she was chosen to speak tonight, says Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at the Cook Political Report.

"She articulates the middle-class economic message as well as any other candidate out there right now," she says.

Duffy points to a popular YouTube video in which the candidate argues that public goods and private enterprise naturally go hand in hand—and to great effect, in Duffy's opinion.

"She talked about 'You didn't build this,' and a lot better than the president, I have to say," she says.

Ironically, though Warren's strength at the Democratic Convention may be her ability to reach out to average voters, Incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown is painting Warren as out of touch with average voters in their Senate race. Brown connects well with blue-collar, white workers, says Duffy, making it easier for him to paint Harvard Law Professor Warren as an academic elite.

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Still, Warren's national-level political celebrity and her outreach to the middle class has been a boost in her race against Brown—particularly in the area of money, Duffy says. In "capturing the hearts and minds of rank-and-file Democrats across the country," Warren has also captured over $28 million in campaign contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In contrast, Brown has raised $19.5 million.

And tonight's speech, which ended with a conventional hall on its feet, could boost her fundraising even more, says Duffy. It certainly energized at least one delegate from her home state.

"The substance of the speech touched on the issues that were really important to everyone in this hall and to everyone at home," said Cheryl Cronin, a delegate from Massachusetts. "She reminded people what we are fighting for in this election, which is for one of two different visions of the economy."

With reporting from Lauren Fox