MIDDLETON — Her U.S. Senate campaign has little cash and no paid staff, and she is virtually unknown to most would-be Massachusetts voters.
Yet Democrat Marisa DeFranco, an immigration attorney from Middleton, is on the verge of qualifying for the September primary ballot, denying the party's prohibitive favorite, Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren, the ability to focus exclusively on Republican incumbent Scott Brown.
DeFranco cleared one major hurdle earlier this month by submitting more than 10,000 signatures of registered Democrats; her final hurdle is winning at least 15 percent of the delegates at Saturday's Democratic State Convention in Springfield.
The state party chairman predicts DeFranco will get the needed votes, setting up a primary contest that few Democrats expected and some hoped to avoid. Other candidates with more money and name recognition than DeFranco left the race earlier in deference to Warren's huge fundraising advantage and the apparent inevitability of her nomination.
DeFranco, 41, is unabashedly liberal and unapologetic about her reputation for feistiness.
"I'm opinionated, I'm a wisenheimer, I make smart-aleck remarks," she said during an interview in the small, nondescript office suite that serves as her campaign headquarters.
Her campaign, DeFranco said, eschews the traditional political wisdom that comes from consultants whom she could not afford to hire even if she wanted to, including advice on how women should run for office.
"They're always trying to make women exactly right, not too soft, not too tough, just right — Goldilocks — and then you end up an empty shell," she said. "Because if you are not true to who you are, and true to your personality, it's going to come through as fake."
According to federal election records, DeFranco had raised just $41,613 through March 31, compared to the $15.8 million pulled in by Warren over that same period. She relies on a small cadre of dedicated volunteers including her husband, attorney Kai Moy, who doubles as the campaign's media liaison.