DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Elizabeth Warren takes the podium during primetime at the Democratic National Convention this evening in Charlotte. Warren is a law professor-turned-government watchdog who's now running for the Senate in Massachusetts. As NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, Warren is a crusader who's won loyal friends and made some fierce enemies throughout her career.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: The central tenet of Elizabeth Warren's life story, both personal and professional, revolves around economic hardship.
ELIZABETH WARREN: I grew up on the ragged edge of the middle class, and I know it's hard out there.
NOGUCHI: She was born in Oklahoma City to a maintenance man and a receptionist, whose misfortunes included losing their car after not being able to afford their payments. Warren's ticket to college was a debate scholarship she won at 16. She followed her first husband to Houston and became a speech therapist. Later, after law school, she practiced as an attorney out of her home while taking care of her two young children.
Her research on bankruptcy and predatory lending led her to a law professorship at Harvard, where she eventually crossed paths with a young Barack Obama.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: She's a dear friend of mine. She's somebody I've known since I was in law school.
NOGUCHI: And she has a penchant for pithy comparisons. She's likened the bankruptcy system to a hospital emergency room, a place of last resort for people in trouble. And as chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel of the financial crisis bailouts, she framed her argument for the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau this way.
WARREN: You can't buy a toaster in America that has a one-in-five chance of exploding. But you can buy a mortgage that has a one-in-five chance of exploding, and they don't even have to tell you about it.
NOGUCHI: Liberals, including "The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart, swooned.
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NOGUCHI: But she elicited an equal and opposite response from Republicans, who considered her activist approach an overreach of government. She frequently tangled on Capitol Hill, here in March of last year with New Jersey congressman Scott Garrett.
REPRESENTATIVE SCOTT GARRETT: What legal authority does a political appointee have in a situation like this, making recommendations with regard to either civil or criminal actions?
WARREN: Congressman, I think we need cops on the beat to enforce the law.
GARRETT: Great, but we need to know what that law is. Can you cite - can you cite what the authority is to enforce that law that you have?
WARREN: We need...
NOGUCHI: Warren also regularly sparred with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, publicly over handling of the bailout, and privately over his reported opposition to her leading the new consumer bureau.
Now, a new poll has Warren trailing in her bid to unseat Republican Scott Brown for Ted Kennedy's Senate seat. Her missteps included not responding, for weeks, after she was accused of using her Cherokee heritage to advance her academic career. Speaking yesterday to NPR, Warren said this race is not about her.
WARREN: This is about what's happening to America's working families. That's an issue I've been working on for years.
NOGUCHI: And it's one that appeals to her liberal Democratic base, whose energy the Obama campaign needs badly heading into the fall.
Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Charlotte, North Carolina.
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