The Warren Report: Elizabeth Warren could be the big surprise of the 2016 presidential race.

Author:Gross, Daniel
Position:Cover story

On Saturday, October 18, the famous Democratic politician from back east showed up to fire up college students in a vital Senate race in the upper Midwest. The sixty-something blonde grandmother, a lawyer by training, politician by profession, an all-around bad-ass who takes no crap from powerful men, came to dish up red meat to the base. And they ate it up. "She's amazing," gushed Rachel Palermo, 21, a senior at St. Olaf College, the Washington Post reported. "She's a rock star," said the grateful sitting senator.

But Hillary Clinton was elsewhere. Rather, it was Elizabeth Warren who showed up at Carleton College to stump for Minnesota Senator Al Franken. And she delivered her populist, earnest, angry/ optimistic message in an Oklahoma twang that has been polished by years as an Ivy League professor. "The game is rigged, and the Republicans rigged it," she railed.

Warren, an expert on bankruptcy and the plight of middle-income families, architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and, since 2012, the occupier of the Senate seat once held by Ted Kennedy, has emerged as a Democratic icon. Popular among the base for her fiery speeches, her conquest of Scott Brown in 2012, and ability to put bankers and lobbyists in their place, she speaks in declarative, complete sentences. No other senator has raised as much cash for an election campaign as she did in 2012.

Trekking to Minnesota for turnout rallies is the sort of thing that popular senators not up for re-election do for their peers and their party. But it's also the sort of thing that popular senators not up for re-election do when they are considering running for president. Which raises a few questions. In the wake of a catastrophic mid-term in which stagnant wages and economic frustration tamped down turnout, is Elizabeth Warren preparing to throw her hat in the ring? Could Warren credibly take on the all-but-declared Hillary Clinton? And what implications would the campaign of a latter-day version of William Jennings Bryan have for the financial system?

"There is no wiggle room. I am not running for president. No means no." Warren told the Boston Globe in July. But when she spoke to People this fall--yes, People writes features on Elizabeth Warren--she wiggled a bit. "If there's any lesson I've learned in the last five years, it's don't be so sure about what lies ahead. There are amazing doors that could open."

And who can blame her for publicly toying with a run? A Warren candidacy may not be probable. But it is entirely plausible and possible. The Democratic Party isn't exactly teeming with credible, fresh faces. What if Hillary Clinton, who turned sixty-seven in October 2014 and was a relatively lackluster surrogate throughout the fall, decides she doesn't want to run after all, or takes ill? What if Vice President Joe Biden, already seventy-two, demurs? And what if another series of financial crises or implosions, or simply an end to this unsatisfying expansion, brings the issues Warren owns--fighting for the middle class, relief from foreclosure and bankruptcy, reining in the banks and rampant financial capitalism--back to the fore? Meanwhile, the Republicans don't seem to have much to offer beyond a bunch of retreads and stunt candidates. (Jeb Bush, the great hope of moderates, hasn't been in public life since 2006.) Despite the party's big victory in the depressed-turnout mid-terms, no Republican has much of a plan to reverse the basic demographic problem Republicans face in presidential elections. For any Democratic candidate who can strike a chord with a...

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