Elizabeth Warren, founder of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is starting an exploratory committee for a potential Senate run in Massachussetts. (Harry Hamburg/AP)

Some have called the move a trap. Her would-be Republican opponent’s popularity is pretty remarkable, even in polls run by Democrats. In the seat long held by Democratic lion Ted Kennedy, Sen. Scott Brown has played the Massachusetts version of a conservative fairly well, bucking his party just enough to come off as independent minded. And her Democratic challengers hardly make her a slam dunk: While she gets the best margin in a head-to-head poll pitting Democrats against Brown, her hardly impressive 28 percent (compared with Brown’s 53 percent) is not that much higher than City Year co-founder Alan Khazei’s 24 percent or Newton Mayor Setti Warren’s 21 percent.

But though it’s hardly guaranteed she will win the Democratic nomination—much less beat Brown—I think she stands a pretty good chance. Warren has become a darling of the left, so much so that they nearly made her appointment to head the agency she dreamed up a litmus test for President Obama’s progressive bona fides.

Ironically, Warren has something Brown now doesn’t, at least to the same extent: Passion from her followers. Yes, Scott Brown may have been an early harbinger that the Tea Party movement was a force to be reckoned with, able to turn Kennedy’s seat from blue to red in what may be the most progressive state in the county. But the Tea Party has soured on Brown since then, putting him on target lists and accusing him of throwing it under the bus for his critiques of budget cuts.

Meanwhile, the fervor progressives feel for Warren is a rare thing in a Washington plagued with a 12 percent approval rating for Congress and a Democratic party that’s falling out of love with its president. The widespread disillusionment with both parties’ handling of the debt ceiling drama and the economy, and with their ability to put citizens’ needs over party or corporate interests, makes excitement over a candidate a powerful force indeed. Whether or not more passionate followers is a good thing for our divided political landscape today—see Party, Tea—there’s little doubt they’re a force to be reckoned with. Leaders, after all, are defined not just by their title or status, but by the people who follow them.

More from On Leadership:

Paul O’Neill: Only the president can restart America’s engine

Laura Tyson:What it will take to bring back jobs

Jane Harman: Advice for women in politics

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