“This is an America that is working for those at the top and not anyone else, and that is why I’m here,” Warren said at a Friday evening event in Council Bluffs, Iowa, the first of five back-to-back speeches and meet-and-greets with voters planned for the weekend.
The Democrat from Massachusetts is the first high-profile figure to announce an exploratory committee and has picked up staff from other presidential campaigns, hitting the ground early.
“I’m in this fight because I am grateful," she said. "My daddy ended up as a janitor and I had a chance to become a public school teacher, a college professor, and a united states senator. I am grateful to America down to my toes. I am grateful, but I am also determined."
The senator began her three-day tour of the state just across the border from Nebraska, in a humble bar and grill that held a crowded group of supporters and intrigued voters in a standing room, plus a large group standing outside in the weather -- luckily, a balmy temperature for Iowa in the winter.
Warren covered a range of issues, addressing questions from the audience on the future of the Democratic party, healthcare and immigration.
She focused on the financial struggles of the middle class, which she's made a focus of her time in Washington, and emphasized minorities who are hardest hit.
"Why is the path so rocky for so many people and so much rockier for people of color? Why has this happened in America?" Warren said.
On immigration, the issue that has drawn the U.S. government to a halt, Warren spoke of a trip to the border she recently took. She was responding to a young woman who said she'd arrived in the country as a refugee and wanted to know Warren's policy recommendations for immigration reform.
Warren became emotional as she described her frustration at witnessing the Trump administration's border security policies.
"I went down to the border and I saw the children that had been taken away from their parents," she said. "It was unbelievable. It was like a giant Amazon warehouse that was dirty."
"As you came in there was a cage of women, a cage of women, another cage of women. They were packed in, cages of men. And then you came into a bigger part and there were cages set out with little girls in them," Warren said, her voice cracking.
"Nine-year-old, 10-year-old, 12-year-old little girls just in cages. Then there were cages full of little boys. We have to have an immigration system that understand the difference the threat posed by criminals and terrorists and 9-year-old girls," she said.
Over the past two days, the president has drilled down on the need for a border wall, saying without evidence that the wall would push back against a sense among terrorists that the Southern border is an easy point of entry to the U.S.
Warren’s trip to Iowa is her first event after announcing an exploratory committee for 2020 — a significant step toward announcing a full-fledged presidential run.
'Ready for 2020'
Iowa is the first state to hold a major contest in presidential elections with its caucuses and holds unique power -- it can fuel momentum, as it did for Sen. Bernie Sanders during his presidential run in 2016 -- or hamper it.
Warren is throwing her name into the ring early -- but supporters in Council Bluffs say she should bring it on.
“I’m ready for 2020 to start,” said Brooke Smith, a lifelong Democrat from the neighboring state of Nebraska. “I think that’s how most Democrats feel, have another election and see what we can get, see if we can fix some problems,” she said.
Smith, a financial data analyst who says she sees herself in Warren’s “nerdy” personality, wondered why the Massachusetts senator decided to announce her exploratory committee ahead of other candidates, a move she predicted would be more necessary for people with less name recognition. But, she said, she doesn’t think it’ll do Warren any harm.
“They were already attacking her before she even ran because everybody suspected she was going to run anyway,” Smith said —- and if getting out early helps Warren fundraise, “power to her.”
The criticism Smith said she’s seen was echoed by other women in the crowd.
“I think the conversation of whether or not she’s electable is borderline sexist because they focus on a lot of things I think they wouldn’t be focused on if she was a man,” Smith said.
Ashley Brunkhorst, a 29-year-old who voted for Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primaries, said this time around, she doesn’t want to vote for a man.
“I really would like to vote for a woman this time,” said Brunkhorst, a makeup artist and political activist.
What resonated with her about Warren, she said, is how she fights for “the little guy.”