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Elizabeth Warren: Obama’s natural heir?

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Ever since she formally decided to challenge Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R), Elizabeth Warren has been a national Democratic phenomenon.

Harvard law professor and consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren shakes hands as she arrives in Lowell, Mass. Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2011 prior to the debate between six Massachusetts Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Scott Brown. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

She raised more than $3 million in just the first few weeks of cash collection, rang up more than 796,000 hits on You Tube for her pronouncement that “there is nobody in this country who got rich on his own”, and is regularly drawing large number of volunteers to her campaign headquarters almost a year before the 2012 election.

Even veteran Democratic strategists have struggled to explain the Warren phenomenon within the liberal base of the party. But over the weekend, Rebecca Traister — in the New York Times magazine — offered the best explanation we’ve read about why Warren has taken off so high, so fast.

“Even though she’s running for the Senate and not for the presidency, the early devotion to Warren recalls the ardor once felt by many for Obama,” wrote Traister, adding:

“Embracing Warren as the next ‘one’ is, in part, a way of getting over Obama; she provides an optimistic distraction from the fact that under our current president, too little has changed, for reasons having to do both with the limitations of the political system and the limitations of the man. She makes people forget that estimations of him were too overheated, trust in his powers too fervid.”

Warren is to the — for lack of a better word — “professional left” what they thought (and hoped) Obama would be when he was elected, a true believer not willing to compromise on core principles of the party.

But there’s more to it. Warren has an edge — rhetorically if not in her relatively unassuming personality — that Obama lacks and that some within the party crave.

“The Republicans have been waging class warfare for a generation at the very least and [Warren] is more willing to call them out on it,” said one senior Democratic consultant granted anonymity to compare the two politicians. “Obama spoke more to hope. She speaks more to anger.”

While Traister casts Warren as the heir to Obama’s 2008 campaign, another way to think about the energy surrounding her is that her Senate candidacy amounts to the primary challenge to President Obama that never materialized.

For a certain segment of voters — highly educated, affluent, white, living somewhere between Boston and Washington D.C. or on the west coast — donating to or working for Warren is their way of channeling their dissatisfaction toward Obama in a positive way.

Don’t forget that Warren clashed with Obama Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner (among others) during her time overseeing the allocation of TARP funds. And Geithner is not the favorite figure of many liberals who believe he is too cozy with big business to bring about genuine change.

(Worth noting: As we have written, extrapolating from this unhappy corner of the base into a narrative that Obama has broader base problems is misguided.)

Electing Warren would be proof to some within the Democratic base that being (and staying) pure of principle and calling out Republicans for their misstatements and distortions can work politically. (Of course, Warren is running in the heavily Democratic state of Massachusetts while Obama is seeking re-election in a far more conservative country.)

Whatever the reason, Warren has quickly risen to national superstar status within the party. That doesn’t mean she is a shoo-in for the Senate — Brown has been underestimated before — but it does mean she will collect millions of dollars and draw oodles of press attention before all is said and done next November.

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