CAMBRIDGE — Every New Year’s Eve, Elizabeth Warren and her husband, Bruce Mann, have a tradition: watching the Hollywood classic “Casablanca.”
This year was to be no different, with one notable exception.
Just hours before settling in on the couch, the couple made a slight alteration to their typical routine, walking outside their slate-roofed Victorian to tell the world what has been apparent for months: She wants to be president.
“I’m in this fight all the way,” Warren said, accompanied by Mann and their golden retriever, Bailey.
Asked if the family is ready, Mann, a Harvard law professor, spoke briefly about the potentially bruising battle ahead.
“We’ve been married a long time,” he said. “And it’s always been an adventure. This is just another one.”
While even casual observers of the political scene may not be “shocked! shocked!” to find that Warren wants to run for the White House, the announcement she is forming an exploratory committee makes her the first-big name Democrat to take that step, which allows her to raise money and hire staff.
Along with a video she released Monday that outlined the themes of her campaign — that the system is rigged against the middle class and in favor of Wall Street — the announcement stirred debate about Warren’s place in what is expected to be a crowded Democratic field.
Once regarded as the vanguard of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, she is now expected to join a field that could include many candidates striking similar themes, including independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the 2016 presidential candidate who appeals to many of the same voters with his socialism-inflected message.
David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Obama, said Warren appeared to be trying to preempt Sanders by making her announcement before him.
“By getting out there early and demonstrating that she is very serious, she perhaps can forestall his candidacy and ignite that wing of the party,” Axelrod said. “If you look at that video, apart from her own story, that could have been a Bernie Sanders video.”
The video, in addition to describing Warren’s hardscrabble roots in Oklahoma, casts her as a two-fisted fighter for the middle class against billionaires and corporate interests.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Warren stuck to that populist message and sidestepped questions about whether her controversial claim to Native American heritage could overshadow her focus on the middle class.
“I’ve put it all out there. It’s out there for anyone to see,” Warren said, alluding to the DNA test result she released in October that showed “strong evidence’’ she had a Native American in her family tree dating back six to 10 generations.
Still, she made it clear she wants to move beyond the Native American controversy, as she repeatedly steered questions back to her message about the middle-class taking “one body blow after another.”
“I’m in the fight for all our families,” Warren said. “I want to see an America that works not just for some people, but an America that works for all of us.”
Axelrod noted that message is consistent with the themes Warren has offered throughout her public and academic life.
He said it may resonate with voters nationwide at a time of growing income inequality, but her pugilistic tone could also repel some Democrats looking for a more unifying message.
“I think she will be a serious player in this debate, and if you were tiering the candidates you’d place her in the top group because this a message that is very authentic to her, and it may be a message that fits the times,” Axelrod said. “Whether it’s too hard-edged or not we will see, but it is definitely . . . not a contrivance for the moment.”
Republicans wasted no time casting Warren as a polarizing figure and pointing to polls that indicate Mass. voters are not particularly enthusiastic about her running for president.
“Senator Warren couldn’t be more out of touch,” said Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chairwoman. “With her lack of support from voters — including in her home state — on top of her phony claim to minority status, now that she is formally running Americans will see her for what she is: another extreme far-left obstructionist and a total fraud.”
Some liberal groups cheered her early entry into the fray.
“Senator Elizabeth Warren’s formal entrance into the 2020 race for president today helps launch what we believe will be a vibrant discussion of bold, inclusive populist ideas in the Democratic primary, and we look forward to the wide array of progressive candidates that we expect to join her in it in the year ahead,” said Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America, which encouraged Warren to run for president in 2016 before endorsing Sanders.
Andrea Burns, a spokesperson for Our Revolution Massachusetts, an organization of Sanders’ supporters, said her group is still inclined to support the Vermont senator, if he runs for president. She said Sanders can appeal to the independents and Republicans that Democrats will need to defeat President Trump.
“I don’t think he’s a polarizing figure,” Burns said. “I think he has a great capacity to unite.”
Bakari Sellers, a Democratic commentator and former member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, predicted Warren, a former Harvard Law School professor, would struggle in the South, particularly with black female voters.
“She and Bernie are both probably four years too late,” said Sellers, who wanted former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick to run for president.
“Outside of doing well in New Hampshire, there doesn’t appear to be a pathway to her winning the nomination, given the diverse voters that will be choosing the nominee.”
Warren, however, will help the Democratic Party bury the notion that it needs to nominate “an older, white male” in order to combat Trump’s misogyny, racism, and xenophobia, Sellers said, adding that he believes Senator Kamala Harris of California will win the nomination.
In New Hampshire, some Democrats said they were happy with Warren’s announcement. “It’s exciting,” said Lucas Meyer, the 28-year-old president of the New Hampshire Young Democrats, whom Warren called two weeks ago as part of a flurry of calls she has been making to activists in early primary states.
He said young Democrats in New Hampshire are familiar with Warren and appreciate her focus on combatting credit card and student loan debt.
“People are looking for authenticity, and it is unquestionable that Senator Warren passionately believes in her economic message,” Meyer said. “And as working-class families struggle to get ahead, it’s wise of her to double-down on that message.”
Levenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.