I did not expect Elizabeth Warren to be performing as well in the polls as she is right now. However, the logic of her ascent into no worse than third place isn’t hard to discern.
Warren is prospering in two key lanes — the radical lane and the female lane. Her competition in the radical lane is Bernie Sanders and, for now, he is doing better than Warren there. But Warren need not run ahead of Sanders in the radical lane. If she does well in a second lane, then running a respectable second to Sanders among the most radical Democrats might well be enough to propel her ahead of the Vermont socialist. That would likely make her the principal challenger to Joe Biden.
And Warren has the potential to give Sanders a run for his money among rads. Her policies seem nearly as far-left as Sanders’ and, for many Democrats, she puts a better face on them.
It’s not that Warren is an attractive pol. It’s that she’s younger, less rumpled, and a little less wild-eyed than Sanders. And, of course, she’s female.
Gender aside, I’m reminded of the 2004 duel between Howard Dean and John Kerry. Kerry offered voters almost the same level of radicalism as Dean, and he did so in a more conventional package. In the end, this was appealing to Democrats obsessed with defeating President Bush. Warren has the same advantage over Sanders.
Warren also occupies the female lane. I thought that Kamala Harris would provide strong competition in that lane. I even wondered whether another female, maybe Amy Klobuchar or Kirsten Gillbrand, might emerge as a third female contender.
But so far, Harris has struggled to gain traction, and no other female has made any headway at all. Thus, presently, Warren is easily the leading female candidate in the polls.
That could change. We’re still in the preseason of the campaign for the nomination. Opening day is this week, with the debates.
I don’t expect Warren to stumble, but maybe Harris will make a strong favorable impression. Maybe Sanders will fire up a larger share of his 2016 supporters than he has so far.
As things stand now, though, one can see a path for Warren to the nomination. It runs through two lanes. And if she has that path, she also has a path to the presidency, as frightening as this prospect is.