Sen. Warren facing pro-Trump candidate in re-election bid

BOSTON (AP) — Fans of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren may have long fantasized about a face-to-face debate between the liberal firebrand and her nemesis, President Donald Trump.

This campaign, they've gotten the next best thing as the Massachusetts Democrat has worked to fend off a challenge by Republican Geoff Diehl, a state representative and co-chair of Trump's 2016 campaign in the state.

Although Warren is ahead in the polls and fundraising, some see in the sparring match a test run for a possible real-life clash between Warren and Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

There are a lot of hurdles that Warren — who has said she would take a hard look after the November election at a run for president — would have to clear on the way to that scenario. She has yet to say definitively that she is running for president, and there are plenty of other Democrats in the hypothetical mix, making Warren's path to her party's nomination anything but certain.

But the midterm election has given Warren a chance to dust off her campaign chops. In televised debates, Warren has gone after Diehl hard. The Republican has responded by painting Warren as out of touch with Massachusetts voters.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Warren wasted little time connecting Diehl to Trump, who remains unpopular in Massachusetts, where he garnered less than 34 percent of the 2016 vote.

"My opponent has said he's with Donald Trump 100 percent of the time," Warren said. "That means he's with Donald Trump in wanting to be the deciding vote to roll back health care for tens of millions of Americans."

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., attends a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Dirksen Building titled 'Foreign Cyber Threats to the United States,' featuring testimony by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and others, January 5, 2016.

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Senate Armed Services Committee members (L-R) Sen. Martin Heinrich (D - NM), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) talk during a hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill January 5, 2017 in Washington, DC. The intelligence chiefs testified to the committee about cyber threats to the United States and fielded questions about effects of Russian government hacking on the 2016 presidential election.

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Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) (L) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) arrive for a hearing with the Director of National Intelligence and National Security Agency chief in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill January 5, 2017 in Washington, DC. The intelligence chiefs testified to the committee about cyber threats to the United States and fielded questions about effects of Russian government hacking on the 2016 presidential election.

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Democratic Nominee for President of the United States former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, accompanied by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), speaks to and meets New England voters during a rally at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire on Monday October 24, 2016.

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Mark Wahlberg, Former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, Boston Police Commissioner Billy Evans, Former Boston Red Sox player David Ortiz, Dun 'Danny' Meng, Jessica Downes, Patrick Downes, Senator Elizabeth Warren, director Peter Berg and Harvard Law professor Bruce Mann pose on the red carpet at the 'Patriots Day' screening at the Boch Center Wang Theatre on December 14, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.

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Democratic Nominee for President of the United States former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, accompanied by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), speaks to and meets New England voters during a rally at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire on Monday October 24, 2016.

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Former Red Sox player David Ortiz talks with Senator Elizabeth Warren at the 'Patriots Day' screening at the Boch Center Wang Theatre on December 14, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.

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Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Senator Elizabeth Warren hold a rally at St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH on Oct. 24, 2016.

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U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks at a Manchester 'New Hampshire Together' Canvass Launch event in Manchester, NH on Sept. 24, 2016.

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Senior United States Senator from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren speaks onstage at EMILY's List Breaking Through 2016 at the Democratic National Convention at Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts on July 27, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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US Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, holds up copies of Wells Fargo earnings call transcripts as she questions John Stumpf, chairman and CEO of Wells Fargo, as he testifies about the unauthorized opening of accounts by Wells Fargo during a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, September 20, 2016.

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) along with members of the Democratic Women of the Senate acknowledge the crowd on the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Philadelphia, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Democratic National Convention kicked off July 25.

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) delivers remarks on the first day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Philadelphia, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Democratic National Convention kicked off July 25.

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Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III welcomes Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren on stage on Day 1 of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 25, 2016.

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Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accompanied by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks to and meets Ohio voters during a rally at the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal in Cincinnati, Ohio on Monday, June 27, 2016.

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The Late Show with Stephen Colbert airing live, Thursday July 21, 2016 in New York. With guest Elizabeth Warren .

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) arrives in the Capitol for the on Tuesday, June 28, 2016.

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U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) (R) meets with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland (L), chief judge of the D.C. Circuit Court, April 14, 2016 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Garland continued to place visits to Senate members after he was nominated by President Barack Obama to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

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Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, listens as Janet Yellen, chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, testifies during a Senate Banking Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, June 21, 2016. Yellen offered a subtle change to her outlook from less than a week ago, saying she and her colleagues were on watch for whether, rather than when, the U.S. economy would show clear signs of improvement.

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., greets guests during a rally on the east lawn of the Capitol to urge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to hold a vote on the 'Seniors and Veterans Emergency Benefits Act,' March 9, 2016. The legislation would provide a one time payment to seniors, veterans and other SSI recipients who will not get a cost-of-living adjustment this year.

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Senators Bob Corker (L) and Elizabeth Warren (R) speak before a Senate Banking Committee on the semiannual monetary report to Congress hearing in Washington, USA on February 11, 2016.

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Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), talks with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) in the House chamber prior to President Obama's State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 12, 2013.

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Diehl said that while he supports Trump — he noted the unemployment rate in Massachusetts has dropped during the past two years — he doesn't agree with every Trump-backed policy. He said he opposed the proposed elimination of state and local tax deductions in the GOP tax reform bill.

Diehl has also shied away from calling Warren "Pocahontas," a favorite Trump taunt and a reference to Warren's claims of Native American heritage.

"We've never made it an issue with this campaign," Diehl told the AP. "It's an issue that's been attached to her since 2012. We'll see if the public believes what she's saying."

Warren in October released DNA test results that provide some evidence of a Native American in her lineage. The test has done little to quell criticism of her by Trump and his supporters.

Asked whether the release of the DNA test accomplished what she'd hoped, Warren said her goal is to be an open book.

"This is just who I am. I put it all out there. Ten years of tax returns. All my employment records. And yeah, I even took a DNA test. It's there. It's on the internet. Anybody can take a look at it," she said.

Jeffrey Berry, a professor of American politics and political behavior at Tufts University, said Warren is already looking past Diehl as she weighs a possible White House run, noting her travels to other states to campaign with — and raise money for — fellow Democrats.

"There's going to be two lanes that quickly emerge after November," Berry said. "One is the very liberal lane and one is the even more liberal lane."

"She's going to be in the even more liberal lane and will face candidates like Kamala Harris, while more moderate voices like Kirsten Gillibrand and Deval Patrick will be in the conventional liberal lane," he said, referring to the senators from California and New York and the former governor of Massachusetts. All three have been mentioned as possible Democratic presidential hopefuls.

'This has been my life's work'

Despite her national profile and occasional Twitter feuds with Trump, Warren says that for her, politics is a means to an end — helping to reverse what she calls the "hollowing out of the middle class" in America.

"I didn't get into politics for any reason other than to try to help working families. This has been my life's work," said Warren, who worked as a law professor at Harvard before running for the Senate in 2012. "This is not something I adopted because somebody said it polled well."

For Diehl, Warren's political ambitions have robbed Massachusetts of a full-time advocate in the Senate. He has said that if Warren wants to be president, she should quit her re-election campaign.

Diehl has also argued he can offer Massachusetts something Warren can't — a seat at the table in the GOP-controlled Senate and Republican White House. It's an argument he has made by invoking the late Democratic senator Edward Kennedy.

"Ted Kennedy was the liberal lion of the Senate, but when the elections were over, he would work with Republican presidents or Republican governors here in Massachusetts to deliver for the people," Diehl said. "That's not happening with Sen. Warren."

Although she points to some legislative successes under the Trump administration, Warren said her goal is to help flip the Senate to make it easier for Democrats to push a more ambitious agenda in line with the goals of most Massachusetts voters.

To make that happen, Warren said, she needs as many allies as possible in Congress.

"The best way that I can serve the people of Massachusetts is not only to vote in their interest but also to try to get some allies who will do the same," Warren said. "I want to win these fights."

Asked about the worst thing Trump has done during his two years in office, Warren points to what she describes as his embrace of authoritarian figures like Russian President Vladimir Putin or North Korea's Kim Jong Un.

"When he talks about his love for Kim Jong Un, a brutal, repressive dictator in North Korea and engages in photo ops with him and basically gets nothing in return, I am deeply shocked and I'm left to wonder what's happening here?" Warren said.

Independent candidate Shiva Ayyadurai is also on the ballot.

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