CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Elizabeth Warren plans to deliver a speech Wednesday night that will portray her as a fighter who, along with President Obama, “stood strong” on behalf of the middle class to create a consumer protection agency, according to her chief campaign strategist.
The 12-minute, prime-time speech at the Democratic National Convention offers Warren a crucial opportunity to sell herself to Massachusetts voters, especially the undecided among them who may have tuned out the early phases of her campaign against Senator Scott Brown, a Republican. But Warren’s message may also help reenergize liberals within the Democratic Party, particularly those who feel Obama has not fought hard enough against Republican opposition.
Even as Warren is slightly behind Brown in public opinion polls in Massachusetts, she has had no trouble capturing the hearts, minds, and political donations of the party’s progressive wing, which admires her anti-Wall Street talk and willingness to articulate the case for a robust government and higher taxes on the wealthy, in populist terms.
During a walk in Charlotte on Tuesday, she was stopped several times by admirers in town for the convention, including a pair of Iowa delegates who pulled her into a photo.
She will serve as the warm-up to former president Bill Clinton, during the 10 p.m. hour . Some Democrats hope Warren’s appearance will make a closing argument to any remaining doubters on the left, and recommit activists to campaigning on Obama’s behalf.
“The so-called disillusioned Democrats want to come home and they need someone to tell them it’s OK,” said Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and presidential candidate who has long filled a similar role in the party.
Dean sees Warren as a bridge between the party establishment and progressives who “may be mad at Barack Obama for this, that, and the other,” but need to be reminded of the differences between him and Republican Mitt Romney.
“She is the mainstream Democrat who is probably most in connection with the grass roots,” said Dean, whose political action committee backs Warren.
Warren’s biggest rhetorical challenge in her speech may be balancing the imperative to appeal to the national base with the need to win over independents at home. A speech that appears too strident could help Brown, who has worked hard to contrast himself as a moderate bridge-builder, with an image of Warren as an uncompromising “rock-thrower.”
Her chief strategist, Doug Rubin, said she will not mention Brown by name, instead focusing on the differences between Obama and Romney.
But even without an explicit mention of Brown — who polls suggest is more well-liked by Massachusetts voters than Warren — she will be pushing back against his effort to distinguish himself as independent from the national Republican Party.
“I’m talking to the folks in Massachusetts the whole time,” Warren said. “Because our race may be a race for control of the United States Senate, a race about advancing the Republican agenda, or working with President Obama to build a real future for working families.”
Rubin said Warren will tell “the personal story of the role the president played” in designing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau after the financial crisis.
And like Governor Deval Patrick did in his 2010 campaign, she is trying to define the race as a philosophical choice.
“This is about what kind of people we are,” she said. “It’s about our values and it’s about the kind of country we want.”
Warren insisted she would not alter her message specifically to appeal to independent voters, asserting that American families are always at the core.
“It doesn’t change for me,” she said. “It’s not like I sit around and think that I’ll say this to one group and that to somebody else. This is what I’m called to talk about and it would be a breach of faith for me to change that.”
“Of course unemployment is a concern,” she said Tuesday on “Good Morning America.’’ “But the real issue now in the election is: Who’s got the best plan going forward? Mitt Romney has made it clear what his plan is. Cut taxes for the richest Americans and the biggest corporations, increase taxes on the middle class, and don’t make investments in the future.”
“Barack Obama says that’s not the right way to do it. What we’re going to do is we’re going to ask everyone to pay a fair share, not increase taxes on the middle class and make investments in the kinds of things that could help us build a future: education, roads, and bridges. It’s two very different visions of how to go forward.”
Warren’s direct appeal to the political party is a contrast to Brown’s approach. Brown spent little time at last week’s Republican National Convention, and declined a speaking role.
On Tuesday, Brown launched a new website that depicts Warren as a ranting hypocrite who has falsely claimed that she has Native American roots.
Since arriving in Charlotte, Warren has conducted a string of interviews. She spoke to the state delegation and has worked on her speech. She plans to hold a fund-raising brunch Wednesday, and will return to Boston Thursday for the primary election.
The biggest distraction from Warren’s moment may be football. The NFL moved up its opening night to Wednesday to accommodate Obama’s speech Thursday. That could hurt her ability to reach independent voters in Massachusetts who may be more interested in watching the Dallas Cowboys take on the New York Giants.
Warren smiled when asked about the game, then suggested fans could record it.
“So be it,” she said. “I’m counting on TiVo.”Noah Bierman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.