Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Elizabeth Warren cast herself as a champion of a beleaguered middle class and a foe of moneyed interests in a speech to the Democratic National Convention designed to give a jolt of energy to her campaign while defending Barack Obama's record on consumer rights.
Warren also used the speech to highlight her work to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and to connect with ordinary Americans that she said are losing faith in the idea that they have an equal shot at success.
"People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here's the painful part. They're right. The system is rigged," Warren told Democrats gathered in Charlotte, N.C. on Wednesday.
"Oil companies guzzle down billions in subsidies. Billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. Wall Street CEOs — the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs — still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors," she added.
Warren said she grew up in a different America — one that let young people work their way out of poverty while establishing Social Security and Medicare to guarantee seniors live in dignity.
That legacy is under threat, Warren said.
"But for many years now, our middle class has been chipped, squeezed, and hammered," she said. "Their fight is my fight, and it's Barack Obama's fight too."
Democrats gave Warren, a Harvard Law School professor and consumer advocate, the prime-time slot just ahead of President Bill Clinton in part because she is locked in a tight race with incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown.
Democrats are hoping to win back the seat — held for nearly a decade by the late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy — as part of their effort to retain control of the Senate. Brown won a special election in 2010 to fill the office.
Brown said he declined a speaking role at last week's Republican National Convention.
Warren, who grew up in Oklahoma, gave the broad outlines of a biography. She said her father sold carpeting and ended up as a maintenance man, dying of heart attack. Her mother answered phones at Sears and all three brothers served in the military.
She also talked about getting her first job waiting tables at 13, getting married at 19, and teaching elementary school before pursuing a law degree.
But Warren, who never mentioned Brown by name, spent much of her speech positioning herself as a defender of the middle class.
At the center of that argument was Warren's push for the consumer agency that would propel her quest for a Senate seat. She said the goal of the agency is to take the side of families "tricked by credit cards, fooled by student loans and cheated on mortgages."
"The big banks sure didn't like it, and they marshaled one of the biggest lobbying forces on Earth to destroy the agency before it ever saw the light of day," Warren said. "And when the lobbyists were closing in for the kill, Barack Obama squared his shoulders, planted his feet, and stood firm. And that's how we won."
Warren faulted Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney saying he wants to give billions in breaks to big corporations and tax cuts to millionaires.
Brown, speaking to reporters earlier Wednesday, said he hoped Warren would focus on the economy and the nation's spiraling debt. He also joked that he'd probably watch football instead of Warren's speech.
"I'm hopeful she'll talk about what we're going to do to get out of this mess it certainly isn't by raising taxes and having more jobs destroying policies," Brown said after touring a charter school in the East Boston neighborhood of Boston.
Brown, who has tried to cast himself as an independent and voted in favor of the bill that created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said Warren's proposals would increase taxes and make it harder for the nation to get back on a sounder fiscal footing.
"It will be a very different state and country if she's elected," he added.
Earlier Wednesday, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino addressed the convention, urging voters to reject Romney, calling him a decent guy who made a lot of bad decisions for Massachusetts.
The Boston Democrat said Romney learned all the wrong lessons during his time on Beacon Hill and is running away from his major achievement as governor — championing a law that dramatically expanded health care coverage in Massachusetts.
That 2006 law became a model for the federal health care law signed by President Barack Obama in 2010.