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Why Hillary Clinton Should Fear Elizabeth Warren

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

If Hillary Rodham Clinton does not run for president in 2016, I’d certainly put my money on Sen. Elizabeth Warren for the Democratic nomination. And I think Warren might be able to give Clinton a run for her money if the freshman senator would challenge the former secretary of State.  

No point in speculating about a Warren candidacy anymore, you think? Yes, the Massachusetts Democrat has said that she isn’t running a number of times, most recently in a Fortune interview . Why not simply take her at her word? Well, on one level, I do. She says she isn’t running, and I believe that is what she believes and intends. She isn’t running now. End of discussion.  

But I’ve been following politics far too long to believe every statement made today guarantees behavior a few months down the road. Circumstances change, and politicians change their minds.  

Not long ago, Mitt Romney and wife Ann ruled out another White House run in 2016 in no uncertain terms. And yet, the 2012 GOP nominee has changed his mind and is looking seriously at another run.  

I recall talking with a staffer of then-Sen. Barack Obama about the very early chatter (shortly after his election to the Senate) that he should run for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. The staffer laughed at the suggestion, dismissing it out of hand.  

Indeed, less than a week after he was elected to the Senate, Obama told "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert he “absolutely” would serve out his full six-year Senate term.  

Obama had no intention of running in 2008 until supporters and allies persuaded him that though the timing was not ideal, he might never have a better opportunity to run and win.  

It’s pretty simple: Things looked different to the freshman senator in early November 2004 than they did in late October 2006, when he acknowledged on "Meet the Press" he had started to consider the possibility of a run for the White House.  

Of course, the window for Warren is closing quickly. Obama acknowledged before the midterms he was at least looking at a White House run, and he announced his candidacy on Feb. 10, 2007. Warren continues to deny any intention to run, and it is already mid-January.  

Clinton has plenty of assets in a race for her party’s nomination — access to money, the sense that it’s her turn, experience running a national campaign, a great Democratic name — and Warren doesn’t have the trump card — race — Obama had when he upset the former first lady.  

So it would be understandable why Warren might defer to Clinton in 2016.  

But while Democrats seem prepared to support the former New York senator, it is Warren who plays best to Democratic sympathies and whose passion is obvious.  

It has been almost three years since I wrote a column asserting the media’s preoccupation with the rift in the Republican Party had caused most journalists to ignore the developing divide that was starting to appear in the Democratic Party.  

That Democratic divide continues to develop, and though it isn’t as serious as the GOP’s, the general dynamic is the same.  

There's an element of the Democratic Party which believes its leaders have been too willing to compromise with Republicans, too close to corporate America and too hesitant (and scared) about pushing an unapologetically progressive agenda.  

They have watched the tea party help pull the GOP to the right, and they figure, not unreasonably, that a force on the left of the Democratic Party could pull Democratic candidates to the left.  

Republicans, of course, think this is nuts. They already think Democrats, including the president, have moved too far left, and they see the results of the 2014 midterms as evidence of that.  

But that Republican reaction largely mirrors the Democratic view of the GOP rift over the past few years. To Democrats, the idea that Republicans such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker John A. Boehner haven’t been conservative enough is sheer lunacy.  

Warren reflects the views of most in her party who distrust anyone in corporate America and want to give voice to the less affluent. She comes across as extremely genuine and caring.  

Clinton says the right words and certainly generates enthusiasm among some in her party, but she can’t match Warren’s charisma, intensity or passion.  

Warren would start well behind Clinton in a race for the Democratic nomination. And it’s certainly possible, even likely, that the Massachusetts Democrat couldn’t overtake Clinton. After all, the former secretary of State would not sit idly by and allow Warren to define herself as the champion of America’s working class and Clinton as merely a pawn of Wall Street.  

But for many in the party, Clinton seems to represent the past, while Warren represents the future. That’s a potentially powerful contrast in Democratic primaries.  

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