It's been three weeks since the Boston Herald first reported of Elizabeth Warren's past claims of Native American heritage. And while Warren, and her campaign for Scott Brown's Senate seat in Massachusetts, would clearly like to move past the controversy and turn attention to her criticism of Wall Street, political observers from both parties say there's only one person to blame for the ongoing chatter: Warren herself.
The latest news fueling Massachusetts gossip mills comes Thursday from the Herald, which reports that Warren, a Democrat, contributed five recipes to a 1984 cookbook titled "Pow Wow Chow," which was promoted as a collection of "special recipes passed down through the Five Tribes families."
Warren, who says her belief that she was 1/32 Cherokee came from "family lore," listed herself as a minority in a law school directory between 1986 and 1995. She was also touted by both Harvard Law School and the University of Pennsylvania—where she taught—as a minority and a "woman of color."
Warren, Harvard professor Charles Fried, and other supporters publicly rejected accusations that Warren used minority status to gain an advantage under affirmative action. But Warren's inability or unwillingness to produce either documentation of her heritage or university personnel records has kept questions circulating.
"There's only one topic of conversation in this state and there has been for three weeks now," Jim Barnett, the campaign manager for Brown, told Yahoo News. Both Brown's campaign and Cherokee tribe members have called on Warren to release her personnel files from Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. The records would ostensibly show whether she mentioned her heritage when applying for teaching positions.
Causing further heartburn for the Warren campaign, the New England Historical Genealogical Society on Tuesday reversed its claim that it possessed evidence of Warren's Cherokee heritage. Warren, who grew up in Oklahoma, says she has no documented proof of her heritage.
"I sympathize a little bit where they [Warren's staff] are because they are getting much of the blame for mismanaging this crisis, but their problem is that they have a candidate that's not telling the truth," Barnett told Yahoo News.
Warren's press secretary, Alethea Harney, declined to respond to requests for comment from Yahoo News.
While the Native American story continues to dominate coverage of the Massachusetts Senate race, Warren is trying to steer the conversation back to her presumed strength as a candidate: her willingness to take on Wall Street. Warren, a star consumer advocate who was Obama's first choice to head up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (though Republicans blocked her appointment), called on Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan, to resign from the New York Federal Reserve Bank board following the company's admission that it suffered a surprise $2 billion loss.
"We have to say as a country, no, the banks cannot regulate themselves," Warren said Tuesday on CBS.
Warren's campaign also released a new ad Wednesday that tries to remind viewers why she was a highly coveted Democratic recruit for the Massachusetts Senate race.
"Big banks, institutions, Wall Street ... She's not afraid of anybody," a woman says in the ad.
Warren began the week by calling for a new Glass-Steagall Act—the New Deal-era banking reform law that was repealed in 1999. On Monday, both her campaign and the state Democratic Party criticized Brown for accepting donations from JPMorgan, and Warren's campaign rolled out another attack on Wednesday, arguing that Brown has actively sought to weaken federal Wall Street reforms.
"She has learned that when you are under attack, you have to respond, and respond quickly and hit back," Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh of Massachusetts told Yahoo News.
Despite the hullabaloo over Warren's ancestry, Massachusetts voters aren't seeing the issue play out in attack ads.
In a startling move that sets this race apart from many other high-profile Senate contests this election year, Brown and Warren agreed in January to curb all political attack ads from outside groups by donating to their opponent's charity of choice if outside supporters ignored their request to refrain from airing any ads—positive or negative.
In a state that has traditionally leaned Democratic, both Brown and Warren have run ads in recent weeks featuring their connections to President Barack Obama, though Obama actually appeared in the television commercial for Warren. (Brown has touted himself as a bipartisan voice in Washington.)
"She's a janitor's daughter who has become one of the country's fiercest advocates for the middle class," Obama says in Warren's ad.
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