Everything you need to know from Elizabeth Warren’s new book

Next week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren's much-anticipated book, "A Fighting Chance," will be released, promising to further stir speculation about the rising Democratic star's political ambitions.

AP File Photo
AP File Photo

We've thumbed through an advance copy of the book -- which, make no mistake, reads much along the lines of dozens of "campaign books" released by politicians of years past. The biographical work, which follows Warren from the rundown Oklahoma house she grew up in to the halls of the U.S. Capitol, is a good read -- and has tons of tidbits that political junkies will love.

Here's what you need to know.

The 2012 Senate race

* On Scott Brown

"He was well-liked and handsome, the kind of guy who might be played by Tom Cruise in the movie version of his life.... After years of quiet backbenching in the state legislature, he had swept through Massachusetts politics like a gale-force wind."

* On gender in the Senate race

"In those early months in the race, reporters would sometimes ask me a variation of the question 'What's it like to run as a woman?' I always smiled mildly, but I hated the question. I was pretty sure no one asked Scott Brown how it felt to run as a man."

* The People's Pledge

"We were in uncharted territory, but Scott Brown and I were both willing to give it a try. The deal had at least a chance of working and the alternative of allowing the race to be swamped by outside ads seemed truly awful -- for Brown, for me, for every voters in the Commonwealth. Besides, maybe this new approach could make campaigns more accountable and help pull the electoral process back in the right direction -- even just a little."

The Native American issue

One of the lingering legacies of Warren's 2012 campaign against Scott Brown for the U.S. Senate seat she now holds was a flare-up over her ancestry, with Republicans still questioning and mocking her for claims that she is part Native American. 

Early in the book, Warren mentions that her parents' marriage was controversial because her father's family did not approve of her mother as a potential wife because she was part Native American.

"His parents bitterly opposed the match because my mother's family was part Native American and that was a big dividing line in those days," Warren writes in the book's opening chapter.

But that early mention is only a small foreshadowing of what is to come.

Warren devotes a lengthy section of the book -- titled "Native American" -- to discussing the 2012 controversy around her ethnic background, which emerged when it was reported during the campaign that, during her time at Harvard, Warren had been listed by the university in an article as a staff member with Native American heritage. When asked about it by a local reporter, Warren writes, she "didn't recall the long ago article" and "fumbled the question. Within a few days we found ourselves in a full-blown campaign frenzy."

Soon, GOP groups were calling for her to prove that she was, in fact, part Native American. Brown and his aides implied that Warren had fabricated the ancestry in order to get ahead.

"I was stunned by the attacks," Warren writes.

Ultimately, Warren was never able to document where in her ancestry the tales and her understanding of being part Native American originated. Still, she writes, it was an understood part of her family folklore.

“Everyone on our mother’s side — aunts, uncles, and grandparents — talked openly about their Native American ancestry. My brothers and I grew up on stories about our grandfather building one-room schoolhouses and about our grandparents’ courtship and their early lives together in Indian Territory.”

On Ted Kennedy

For Massachusetts Democrats, Warren holds a special place of honor because she was the one who wrested back control of the "Kennedy seat" -- the Senate seat held for decades by Sen. Ted Kennedy but won by the Republicans during Scott Brown's lightning-in-a-bottle emergence in 2010.

Warren writes about how she often thought about Kennedy during the campaign.

"I couldn't be Ted Kennedy, but at least I had a great model for how to fight for what was right."

Warren writes that she still keeps a saved voice mail from Kennedy, left years ago, on her phone and that she would listen to it during times of discouragement.

"It begins, 'Oh Elizabeth, uh, this is Ted Kennedy, just calling to thank you for your help....' The message goes on but I just wanted to hear the first part. I just wanted to hear his voice."

A compelling backstory

Perhaps due to her discouragement after the Native American controversy during her Senate run, much of Warren's backstory remains unknown to large swaths of the nation -- making the early chapters of the book a compelling read.

Warren details growing up relatively poor in Oklahoma and discusses how her life changed drastically when her father had a  heart attack and lost his job. On the verge of losing the family home, her mother squeezed into the only nice dress she owned and marched down the street to interview for a job at Sears.

Considered one of the most liberal members of Congress, Warren, in writing about her childhood, focuses heavily on her humble, impoverished upbringing in the heartland.

She writes of hating high school -- being a nerdy, "not pretty" girl who was anchor of the school debate team -- and notes that her mother hated the idea of her going away to college. She was told to stay in town because going off to school would hurt her chances of getting married. Instead, she secretly applied to colleges that she knew gave out debate scholarships, ultimately landing a full ride to George Washington.

Warren's recounting of her early life paints her as in a state of constant conflict, tugged in two directions by her desire to pursue a professional career and ambitions while also building a family.

It was those ambitions that led her back to college (she dropped out of George Washington when she got married the first time), to law school, and then into academia.

"Put on your seat belt, Mr. Secretary."

Much of the middle of the book focuses on Warren's work on the congressional oversight panel put in place to oversee the implementation of the 2008 financial bailout package stimulus package  as well as her time working to structure the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That meant that there are tons of mentions and anecdotes about her relationship with then-Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. But one is a little funnier than the others. As the Boston Globe's Matt Viser notes:

"Majority leader, U.S. Senate."

Warren writes of an evening in November 2008 when, as she prepared to host a group of law students at her home for dinner, the phone rang.

My caller was a soft-spoken man who identified himself as "Harry Reid." I could barely hear him.

"Who?" I asked.

"Um, Harry Reid." Pause. "Majority leader, U.S. Senate."

"Oh."

Names dropped

-- Midway through the book, Warren writes about getting dinner with Larry Summers at the Bombay Club in D.C.:

"Late in the evening, Larry leaned back in his chair and offered me some advice. By now, I'd lost count of Larry's Diet Cokes, and our table was strewn with bits of food and spilled sauces. Larry's tone was in the friendly-advice category. He teed it up this way: I had a choice. I could be an insider or an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don't listen to them. Insiders, however, get lost of access and a chance to push their ideas. People -- powerful people -- listen to what they have to say. But insiders understand one unbreakable rule: They don't criticize other insiders."

-- Warren devotes a good chunk of ink writing about her appearances on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." Before her first appearance, she was so nervous that she threw up backstage.

-- Hillary Clinton earns just one mention in the book, as Warren recalls a meeting in 1998 with the then-first lady to discuss a proposed bank bankruptcy bill.

-- Warren writes that Stephanie Schriock, the head of EMILY'S List, is "dynamic" and says that Schriock and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) were two of the people she talked to first about whether she should run for office. She writes that Vicki Kennedy called often during the campaign to provide advice. 

-- Former Massachusetts governor and failed Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis taught Warren's husband Bruce how to door-knock, "setting a blistering pace that kept them half-running from house to house."

-- Soon after entering the race, Warren came under fire from American Crossroads, the Super PAC run by Karl Rove. Warren writes that Rove is  "one of the wiliest political operators in the country."

-- Warren says that Guy Cecil, who runs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told her she'd need roughly $30 million to win the Senate race. "Guy Cecil, a gifted strategist who helps Democrats organize Senate campaigns, is a true believer," she writes.

-- Warren writes that she was worried then-Boston Mayor Tom Menino might endorse Brown in the 2012 race. "For over a year, I'd telephoned the mayor regularly, and he had asked me questions and given me advice -- but no endorsement. In mid-September, he called to say: I'm ready."

-- "Barney Frank was the gravelly-voiced, smart-as-a-whip congressman who was equally loved and feared in Washington.... I admired his sharp one-liners and his ferocious willingness both to fight for what he believed in and to hammer out compromises that produced half a loaf when most people thought there would be no bread at all."

-- During their first meeting, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka assured her: "I'll always have your back."

-- If you're a fan of Boston politics, Warren's book -- especially the chapters on the Senate race -- are an absolute grab-bag of mentions of well-known Bay State operatives and politicians. Shout-outs and mentions include Roger Lau, Michael Kineavy, Rev. Miniard Culpepper, Tom Keady, Ed Kelly (president of the state firefighters' union) and Joe Kennedy. Then there are and the obvious mentions of and praise for the operatives who ran her campaign -- Mindy Myers, Doug Rubin, Kyle Sullivan, Lauren Miller and tons of others.

Editor's note: This post has been updated to correct the work done by the oversight committee with which Warren worked.

Wesley Lowery covers Capitol Hill for The Fix and Post Politics.
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