Indian reporters and activists want answers from Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, who has given muddled replies about whether she used unsupported claims of Cherokee ancestry to further her academic career at Harvard.
As Massachusetts Democrats meet at their nominating convention today, some members of the Cherokee Nation are stepping up a campaign to get answers about candidate Elizabeth Warren's claims of tribal ancestry - a sideshow controversy that has nevertheless begun to wobble one of the most closely-watched Senate campaigns in the country.
This week, Indian reporters say they were snubbed by Warren's campaign as they sought clarification on why Ms. Warren was listed as a minority Native faculty by Harvard in the 1990s, even though she has no evidence to back that claim and apparently never sought out other Native Americans on campus.
Jim Barnett, a spokesman for the incumbent Republican, Scott Brown, did talk to Indian Country magazine, noting that "any time a person tries to attach themselves to a group of people without rationale for doing so, except for maybe personal gain, it seems very seedy to me."
A group of Cherokees has set up a website disputing Warren's claims, and some tribal members said they may protest the Democratic nominating convention in Springfield, Mass., today.
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While Warren is expected to win the Democratic Party endorsement, one challenger, Marisa DeFranco, may well pick up enough support to force a primary showdown in September. So far, Democrats continue to support Warren, who trails Brown by two points in the latest polls - the same margin as before the ancestry kerfuffle broke. But Ms. DeFranco has said Warren's inability to adequately address the ancestry questions is hurting Democrats' chances of retaking a Senate seat held by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.
Indeed, signs are emerging that the Native claim controversy has begun to take a toll, as the number of Warren detractors rose by 9 points in the latest University of New Hampshire poll, released Friday. While polls have shown that the vast majority of voters still believe the ancestry issue is overblown, 42 percent of presumptive voters in the UNH poll said Warren had not adequately explained her assertion, compared to 37 percent who said she had. More troubling for her campaign, when asked who they thought would win the race - a question that sums up views and attitudes respondents are picking up from family and friends - 52 percent picked Brown and 27 percent picked Warren.
"Overall, this shows the strengths that Brown has and it shows the problems, obviously, that the Warren campaign has had,'' UNH pollster Andrew Smith told the Boston Globe.
Warren was listed in the early 1990s as a minority professor at Harvard University, but the only proof Warren has of her claim of 1/ 32nd Cherokee blood is family stories about high cheek bones that came from an ancestor. In order for Warren to be 1/32nd Indian, it means that the ancestor had to be a full-blooded Cherokee. But on May 15, the New England Historic Genealogical Society said the group "has no proof that Elizabeth Warren's great-great-great-grandmother O. …