By Ros Krasny
FRAMINGHAM, Massachusetts (Reuters) - Consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren took the message that made her unpopular with Wall Street to Massachusetts voters on Wednesday as she began her Senate campaign vowing to fight for the middle class.
"Washington gives some of the biggest corporations in the world special loopholes and tax breaks, while middle-class families and small businesses struggle," Warren said.
A Harvard Law School professor who created the Obama administration's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Warren hopes to unseat popular Republican Scott Brown in what could be one of the most closely watched congressional races of 2012.
Fierce opposition from Republicans in Congress is thought to have stopped President Barack Obama from nominating Warren to run the consumer agency, and she left his administration.
"Middle-class families have been chipped at, hacked at, squeezed and hammered for a generation now, and I don't think Washington gets it," Warren said. "I think this is past labels. This is about a core set of values.
Beating Brown will be no easy task for Warren or any other Democrat. The moderate Republican has the highest favorability rating of any politician in the traditionally Democratic state, and a large campaign war chest.
Brown led all Democratic candidates in a recent survey by the MassINC polling group for WBUR radio, although close to half of potential voters at the time had not heard of Warren.
Republicans will be keen to hold the seat they won in a huge upset in 2010 after the death of longtime Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy. They have begun to portray Warren as an ultra-liberal Obama acolyte.
Cornelius Hurley, a law professor at Boston University, said Warren would face challenges in a general election.
"She will have to distance herself from the failing Obama/Geithner economic record -- including the deeply flawed Dodd-Frank Act that created the consumer agency she championed but was deemed too polarizing to lead," Hurley said.
'BREATH OF FRESH AIR'
Warren, 62, started the day greeting commuters at a train station in South Boston. She later talked to customers at a diner in Framingham, west of Boston -- one of at least six campaign stops planned in the next two days.
The candidate was greeted with enthusiasm. "She is intelligent and has a very good understanding of the special interests in this country. She's a breath of fresh air," said Ellen Courchene, a retired guidance counselor from Wayland, Massachusetts.
Before facing Brown, Warren must defeat several Democratic opponents in a primary election in September 2012.
The prolific author twice named among Time magazine's 100 Most Influential people in the World has the highest profile of Democrats vying to recapture the Senate seat held by Kennedy, revered by liberals, for more than four decades.
Brown, a former state legislator, spun his victory in 2010 into a high national profile and had about $9.6 million in campaign cash on hand as of June 30.
A former public school and Methodist Sunday school teacher, Warren has hardscrabble roots in Oklahoma, where her family struggled during the Great Depression.
"I know what it's like to live one payslip or one bad diagnosis away from having your life turned upside down," she said. "I've been fighting for the middle class all my life."
After the 2008 financial crisis, Warren led a panel created by Congress to examine how bank bailout money was being spent and went on to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, often locking horns with Wall Street.
She is a bankruptcy expert and has been an outspoken advocate for cracking down on abusive practices concerning credit cards and payday loans.
Warren said she was not worried about being linked in voters' minds to Obama, who is expected to face a tough 2012 re-election fight.
"I'm my own person, and I've been talking about my set of issues for a long time," Warren said.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)