Boston – Most candidates hoping to unseat U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren in next year’s election aren’t shying away from President Donald Trump’s criticism of her claims of Native American heritage, although all but one say they won’t be adopting Trump’s habit of deriding the Massachusetts Democrat as “Pocahontas.”
Warren has called the Republican president’s use of the name a racial slur, but three of the four candidates challenging her say her response to the Republican president leaves her open to charges of playing politics. Warren has said she was told of her heritage by her parents and grandparents.
“At the same time she claims she is so outraged, her campaign is sending out fundraising emails using the term ‘Pocahontas,’” Republican state Rep. Geoff Diehl said. “Once again, Sen. Warren is speaking out of both sides of her mouth.”
Trump again used Pocahontas to refer to Warren during a recent White House event honoring Navajo Code Talkers. Later that day, Warren emailed supporters referencing the comment and soliciting campaign donations.
Of the four main Warren challengers, each of whom were contacted by The Associated Press, Diehl has the closest ties to Trump, having served as co-chairman of his campaign in Massachusetts.
Diehl said Warren “brought these attacks upon herself by being the chief obstructionist in Washington” and called her criticism of Trump’s ridicule “more phony political outrage to build her national profile to run for president.”
Another Republican candidate, business executive John Kingston, said that Trump’s decision to use the name during a veteran’s event was inappropriate but that his criticism is fair.
“I certainly won’t be using such a term on the campaign trail — but Sen. Warren’s misrepresentation of her heritage is part of a pattern that clearly troubles voters, one of using mistruths, divisive rhetoric and grandstanding to advance herself and now boost her presidential ambitions,” Kingston said.
Warren has said she never relied on her Native American heritage to gain any advantage. In a 2012 interview with the AP, Warren said she was told her mother was part Cherokee and part Delaware.
“I never used it to get anything. I didn’t use it to get a job. I didn’t use it to get into school,” she said Monday. “The people who have hired me have made that clear.”
Beth Lindstrom, a onetime aide to former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, said she will focus her campaign on other issues, from illegal immigration to job creation.
“This is what is wrong with Washington today — the nastiness of the debates, the labeling and name calling, and the nothingness of the results,” Lindstrom said. “To the extent there are questions about Sen. Warren’s background, people should direct those questions to her. That is not why I am in the race.”
A fourth candidate, technology entrepreneur Shiva Ayyadurai, has embraced Trump’s use of the term.
Ayyadurai, who began the race as a Republican but is now running as an independent, already used Pocahontas to refer to Warren in a tweet. He said Warren “has literally shoplifted the racial identity of Native American for her own personal gain,” including a job as a law professor at Harvard University.
Warren has acknowledged telling Harvard and an earlier employer, the University of Pennsylvania, of her heritage but only after she had been hired.
Pocahontas was a native woman who lived in present-day Virginia in the 1600s and agreed to marry an English colonist to help ensure peace and protect her people.
Questions about Warren’s heritage, which first surfaced during her successful 2012 campaign to oust Republican Sen. Scott Brown, haven’t dampened her popularity in Massachusetts. One recent poll found her leading each of her challengers by more than 20 percentage points. Warren also had a hefty $12.8 million in her campaign account as of the end of September.
Warren is frequently mentioned as a potential challenger to Trump in 2020 but has dismissed talk of a presidential bid, saying she is focused on her 2018 re-election campaign.
Tim Vercellotti, a professor of political science at Western New England University, said the question of Warren’s heritage won’t sway many voters in Massachusetts — and may not change many minds even at a national level if she runs for president.
“The passage of time helps Elizabeth Warren on this. She’s been in the Senate for five years now and she’s been a national figure longer than that,” he said. “People who might find fault with her were probably never going to vote for her and are looking for a reason why.”
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