- Associated Press - Thursday, August 18, 2011

Consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren on Thursday took a step toward running for Senate when she filed paperwork to form an exploratory committee for a possible challenge to Massachusetts Sen. Scott P. Brown in 2012.

With her exploratory committee and website in place, she can raise money and solicit volunteers while she decides whether to actually run.

President Obama in September tapped Ms. Warren, a Democrat and a Harvard Law School professor, to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But she was withdrawn from consideration this year because of Republican opposition to her nomination.

Ms. Warren, who never has held public office, formerly served as chairwoman for a congressional oversight panel for the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Democrats and liberal groups have been encouraging Ms. Warren to run, considering her as a formidable challenger to the moderate Mr. Brown, who took over the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s seat after winning a special election in January 2010.

“I’m thrilled that Elizabeth is pursuing this next endeavor with the thoughtfulness and respect that’s been such a hallmark of her career,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, a prominent feminist advocacy group. “We’d love to see her take her talents to the U.S. Senate.”

Ms. Warren, a darling of liberal Democrats, has been traveling through Massachusetts this week on a self-described “listening tour” — a venture scoffed by some Republicans who have portrayed her as an out-of-touch academic.

“As a native of Oklahoma, the anointed candidate of the Washington establishment, and someone who has spent many years ensconced in the hallways of Harvard, it’s a good idea for Professor Warren to learn more about her adopted state of Massachusetts as she prepares to compete in a crowded Democrat primary,” said Brian Walsh, a National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman.

Recapturing the seat has been a priority of Democrats, who view it with both symbolic and tangible importance. The party was embarrassed when Mr. Brown — who had strong support from the then-nascent tea party movement — won the seat last year that had been held by Mr. Kennedy for nearly a half-century.

And with several Senate Democrats facing tough re-election fights next year, the party considers winning the seat crucial to retaining its slim majority in the chamber.

More than a half-dozen Democrats already have announced their candidacy for Mr. Brown’s seat, but Ms. Warren would be considered the overwhelming favorite to win the primary if she decided to run.