MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Even as the government in Washington, D.C., is mostly shut down, the 2020 campaign is well underway in Iowa. Democrats there will not pick a presidential candidate in the caucuses for 13 months. But, this weekend, Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts, is making her first trip across the state since announcing her exploratory presidential committee on New Year's Eve. NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid is in Des Moines, where Warren is appearing today.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hey, Michel.
MARTIN: So what are the voters hearing from her?
KHALID: Well, I would say if you were to drill down Sen. Warren's campaign message to really just one central theme, it is this idea that the middle class is under attack, you know, largely because of corporate greed and corruption. She told the crowd, actually, at one stop that pretty much all of her adult career has been spent around trying to figure out this one question - that what is happening to working families in America.
You know, Michel, I think, you know, she is probably best known as a senator from New England, but what I've seen here in Iowa is that she's really getting a chance to introduce herself as she wants. And so she's been talking a lot more about her childhood in Oklahoma, how her dad had a heart attack. And she describes this as being what she thought was a personal story but years later realized it was actually a story about government because she says, you know, back when her mom got this job, minimum wage job, you could support a family of three.
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ELIZABETH WARREN: You could pay a mortgage, you could keep the utilities on and you could put food on the table. Today, a minimum wage job in America full-time will not keep a mama and a baby out of poverty. And that is wrong, and it's why I'm in this fight.
KHALID: And, Michel, really that is kind of the crux that we've been hearing from her in Iowa. You know, she talks for about 15-20 minutes and then takes questions from the audience. She's been fairly open about taking a whole wide range of questions from people in the crowd.
MARTIN: Including from reporters.
KHALID: Including from reporters, which is rather notable because I would say she is one senator who's been rather notorious for her aversion to talking to the press as a senator.
MARTIN: Well, one of the other things that she's known for is her willingness to take on President Trump. And the two of them have had some notable scuffles, particularly on Twitter. How is she handling that on the trail?
KHALID: You're right. You know, Michel, the president, President Trump, has this history of calling Elizabeth Warren Pocahontas, right? These are over her claims of native ancestry. And so she did this DNA test that really sort of backfired on her. She was slammed by some tribal leaders for this. This morning in Sioux City was the first time I'd really directly heard this. A question was asked by a woman in the crowd to Elizabeth Warren. And this person asked, you know, why would you do this DNA test and give Donald Trump more fodder to be a bully?
And the senator reiterated the fact that she is not a person of color. She is not a citizen of any tribe. But she says she put this all out there because it's a line of attack Republicans have been using, and she feels like she just needed to address this. And then she said this, actually, though, more specifically about President Trump.
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WARREN: Now, I can't stop Donald Trump from what he's going to do. I can't stop him from hurling racial insults. I don't have any power to do that.
MARTIN: OK, Asma. And she doesn't seem to be talking to the president sort of directly that often. But was this an unusual approach for her?
KHALID: You know, I would say that in general, it was kind of an unusual approach because she doesn't really - she hasn't actually attacked the president directly since she announced her intention to run for president. You know, she's constantly - I would say consciously been distancing herself from this and really just been trying to focus on the economy and how bad things are in the economy and how they can be fixed.
MARTIN: We only have a couple of seconds left, though. I just wanted to ask you whether the Democratic voters there seem excited about what's - what is to come. She's certainly not the last candidate they'll be hearing from.
KHALID: No. I mean, there's going to be some two dozen candidates who are Democrats likely to jump in. And, Michel, I would say the constant thing I've been hearing from people is they're looking for someone who's electable, somebody who can beat Donald Trump. That is probably the most constant response.
MARTIN: All right. That's NPR's Asma Khalid on the campaign trail in Des Moines, Iowa, using that good campaign trail technology. Asma, thanks so much for joining us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.