Sen. Elizabeth Warren is getting a sense of what it is like to be viewed as a top contender in the 2020 presidential race, with the stories she shares on the stump facing extra scrutiny that has renewed questions over whether the Massachusetts Democrat has an authenticity problem.
Ms. Warren went into damage control mode this week after the surfacing of an old interview that appeared to contradict the story she has been telling about being pushed out of her job as a special needs teacher at Riverdale Elementary in New Jersey in 1971 because she was “visibly pregnant.”
“With Warren’s polling gains, she will be the object of greater scrutiny across the board,” said Darrell M. West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “Reporters and opponents will dissect her biography, policy proposals and campaign operations for anything to use against her.
“This will be the next test of her candidacy — whether she can thrive in spite of the enhanced investigations,” he said.
Less than four months away from the Iowa caucuses, the Democratic nomination race has become a topsy-turvy affair as the polling leaders go on the defensive for different reasons.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden is trying to diffuse attacks related to his son Hunter’s business dealings in Ukraine, and Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont is home recovering from a heart attack that has some wondering whether he will ever return to the campaign trail.
During their struggles, Ms. Warren has been gaining steam.
She recently posted her best fundraising quarter to date and has been attracting massive crowds to her campaign events. The story about how her job loss put her on a different path has become a staple of her stump speech.
“I probably would still be doing that work today, but my story has a couple of more twists to it, and here comes the next twist,” Ms. Warren said at a recent campaign stop. “By the end of the first year, I was visibly pregnant, and the principal did what principals do in those days: wished me luck and hired someone else for my job.”
Things took a turn over the weekend after a conservative writer unearthed video footage from a 2007 interview in which Ms. Warren does not mention being pushed out of her job for her pregnancy and instead says it was because she lacked a certain education certificate.
“Then that summer, I actually didn’t have the education courses, so I was on an emergency certificate, it was called, and I went back to graduate school and took a couple of courses in education and said, ‘I don’t think this is going to work out for me,’” Ms. Warren said in the interview on University of California Television. “And I was pregnant with my first baby. So I had a baby and stayed home for a couple of years.”
Ms. Warren took to Twitter on Tuesday to set the record straight.
“When I was 22 and finishing my first year of teaching, I had an experience millions of women will recognize,” she tweeted. “By June I was visibly pregnant — and the principal told me the job I’d already been promised for the next year would go to someone else.
“This was 1971, years before Congress outlawed pregnancy discrimination — but we know it still happens in subtle and not-so-subtle ways,” she said. “We can fight back by telling our stories. I tell mine on the campaign trail, and I hope to hear yours.”
It is a bit like deja vu all over again for Ms. Warren.
The 70-year-old’s presidential bid got off to a rocky start after she struggled to explain away previous claims of American Indian heritage, which opened her up to ridicule. President Trump dubbed her “Pocahontas.”
Richard E. Vatz, a professor of rhetoric and communication at Towson University, said the way voters respond to the latest episode could say a lot about the leftward tilt of the party.
“The question is less whether she is authentic and more whether the Democratic electorate cares whether she is authentic,” Mr. Vatz said. “It would just amaze me if moderate Democrats held no doubts about the misrepresentation of her history and the manipulation of her history to show she is always a victim in what she does.”
The Washington Free Beacon this week published the minutes of the Riverdale School Board meeting from 1971 that show Ms. Warren’s contract had been renewed for a second year.
CBS News, meanwhile, reported that local news outlets said Ms. Warren was “leaving to raise a family,” and another report said she “resigned for personal reasons.”
Ms. Warren stood by her claim, making the case that things changed when the principal discovered she was pregnant and that she has become more comfortable opening up about the story over time.
“When someone calls you in and says the job that you’ve been hired for for the next year is no longer yours,” she told CBS News. “‘We’re giving it to someone else,’ I think that’s being shown the door.”