NASHUA, N.H. — He wryly admitted to being a poor substitute for his wife. He warned that his golden retriever, Bailey, might jump on the assembled volunteers. And he seemed almost embarrassed by the lengthy introduction that preceded his own remarks.
This week, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign rolled out a new and exceedingly low-key surrogate: her husband, Bruce Mann, who up until now has been more likely to be folding chairs after a Warren event than taking the microphone to kick one off.
“I usually just go up to people and say, ‘Hi, I’m Elizabeth’s husband,’ ” he told the group of a dozen or so volunteers and staffers before a phone bank in a windowless Warren campaign field office space. “It saves time, it gets to the point, and is a quick explanation of why this strange man wants to shake your hand.”
With a wide-brimmed hat on his head and leash in hand, Mann ventured to Nashua on Tuesday without the senator, headlining a campaign event for the first time since his wife began running for president almost a year ago. He’ll appear at two more New Hampshire events Saturday. The move comes as Warren’s campaign seeks to showcase her personality and reinvigorate her polling numbers, marking a new phase that could push Mann, a soft-spoken scholar of American legal history, into the spotlight.
But he took care to minimize his campaign role in an interview with the Globe.
“I’m her husband — that’s really about it,” Mann said. “I mean, other than staffing the dog.”
Mann, 69, is certainly less famous than his wife and arguably less famous than his dog — but if you happen to view the history of debt as a window into the evolution of American law and society, you know who he is. Mann is a professor at Harvard Law School and the author of works like “Republic of Debtors: Bankruptcy in the Age of American Independence.”
“His book on the history of bankruptcy is the major work on that subject,” said Martha Minow, former dean of Harvard Law School.
Mann cuts a striking contrast with Warren, who typically bounces on stage, raising her voice and balling her fist as she outlines the contours of the fight against greed and corruption that defines her campaign. Mann makes his way more gingerly, speaking so quietly he can be hard to hear.
As he addressed volunteers on Tuesday, he turned to his Socratic teaching style, asking the audience to come up with a word that describes Warren on the stump, and nodding as they shouted out words like “enthusiasm” or “genuine.”
“OK, ‘courage’? Good,” said Mann. “It’s always been the case with Elizabeth as long as I’ve known her, she inspires very strong reactions.”
Over the past year, he has been a silent presence on the campaign trail, standing at the back or off to the side at Warren’s weekend events. But Warren’s posts about him on social media — like the time he organized one of the closets in their home to celebrate their anniversary — have made him widely admired among her supporters and staff. She gives a shout-out to him as she tells her life story at practically every campaign stop, often in the same breath that she mentions her divorce from her first husband, Jim Warren, in early 1980.
“Husband number one — and it is never good when you have to number them — husband number one and I parted ways, but I found Bruce and I’ve held onto him ever since,” she said at a recent town hall event in Vinton, Iowa, as the crowd cheered.
Warren and Mann met at a summer course for law professors when she was separated, and she says she fell in love with him because he had “great legs.”
She proposed to him after watching him teach a class, and the two have been married for nearly 40 years — both rising to become Harvard professors, both consumed by questions about debt and bankruptcy, although he has studied its history while she has focused on its ravaging effects on the present.
During the early years of their marriage, they struggled to work in the same city. By the 1990s, they had each landed jobs at the University of Pennsylvania — but went back to a commuter marriage when Warren accepted a tenured position at Harvard in 1995.
Mann was hired at Harvard in 2006. As Warren became an increasingly prominent figure in American politics, he has generally stayed out of the news. But in 2016, he was an important figure in a controversy: the heated debate over whether to retire Harvard Law School’s crest. It showed three sheaves of wheat that represented the family of the slaveholder Isaac Royall Jr., who made a donation that helped to create the first endowed law professorship at Harvard. Mann chaired the faculty committee that recommended that the school retire the crest, which it did.
At Harvard, Mann has a reputation as an old-school instructor who cold-calls students by their last name, but unfurls his sense of humor as the semester goes on. His teaching uniform — a jacket that he takes off before class begins, suspenders, and clear-framed glasses — is so well-known a group of his students is said to have shown up to class once in suspenders as a tribute to him.
Nimra Azmi took his property law class in 2013, and recalled how Mann called on a student who was late on the very first day, forcing him to rifle through his textbook as he tried to find his seat.
“He comes in and he is just very stern, very serious, he’s trying to scare us into our places,” said Azmi. Then, she said, “you realize he’s an absolute softie.”
Mann’s former students say he encouraged them to think deeply about historical context and how dense codes play out in real life, and joked with them about laws related to haunted houses. He has invited his entire 80-person classes to brunch.
“Everyone was like, ‘Oh, I wonder if Elizabeth Warren’s going to be there,’ ” said Jennifer Garnett, another student in the class. She was not.
Mann told the Globe that Warren’s decision to run for president was a “non-decision.” She was asking people close to her to give three reasons she should run and three reasons she shouldn’t. She saved Mann’s input for last.
“When she finally asked me, I just said no, I’m not going to do it, because you’re going to run,” Mann said. “When you have that understanding, and you recognize that no one else does, and see a path forward to try to help the people who are affected by those issues, then you just do it.”
Asked if Warren is confident she will win, Mann reframed the question. “Her sort of immediate goal is to talk about the issues, of course, that she cares about, the issues she’s been working on, and how we can solve them, and to run the kind of campaign that is true to who she is and what her values are,” Mann said. “What follows from that is really up to the voters.”