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Democratic opponent criticizes Elizabeth Warren’s response on Native American issue

For nearly three weeks, Scott Brown’s campaign has been battering Elizabeth Warren for listing herself as a Native American on a legal directory and then being billed as a minority law professor at Harvard University.

Now, Warren has a Democratic critic, too.

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Warren’s primary opponent, Marisa DeFranco, who is trying to raise her profile in the race, is arguing that voters should be concerned about Warren’s “lack of a clear, consistent message” in response to the Native American controversy.

“I’m not sure what her answer is because it’s been so various,” DeFranco said today.

DeFranco said that, in general, it is commendable for universities to trumpet their hiring of minority professors. But she questioned why Harvard listed Warren as a minority.

“Come on, you have to look like a person of color,” she said. “You actually have to be a person of color.”

In a statement this afternoon, Warren’s campaign spokesman, Alethea Harney said: “Elizabeth has been straightforward and open about her heritage while the people who recruited her have made it clear it was because of her extraordinary skill as a teacher and a groundbreaking scholar. We’re getting back to the issues that really matter in this election, like how to level the playing field for middle class families.”

The criticism from DeFranco, a North Shore immigration lawyer, could complicate Warren’s ability to dismiss the controversy as a purely partisan attack and return the focus in her Senate race to Brown’s record on financial issues.

Though she has raised only $41,613 in the past year and had just over $8,080 in her political account as of April 1, DeFranco is backed by a small, but passionate band of volunteers and is gearing up for the Democratic convention on June 2 in Springfield.

She has already collected the more than 11,000 signatures needed to qualify for the Sept. 6 primary ballot.

Meanwhile, Brown’s campaign continues to hammer at Warren with questions about her lineage.

On Friday, Brown’s campaign manager, Jim Barnett, seized on the issue in a fund-raising e-mail that contrasted what he called Brown’s reputation as a “straight shooter” with Warren’s “bizarre excuses and hollow denials” about her ancestry.

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.
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