Juan Williams | Elizabeth Warren is a towering political figure, or something

The Massachusetts senator could become the Barack Obama of 2016, able to grab the Democrats’ presidential nomination from the favorite, Hillary Clinton, by coming at her from the left. The defining issue for Democrats in 2008 was Iraq. In 2016 it will be the economy. Warren is much more in step with the party on this issue than is Clinton.

Warren’s economic populism also defines the party’s present. After losses in the midterms, the Democrats have concluded that it is time for them to go on offense, utilizing Warren’s issues — raising the minimum wage, cutting better deals on student loans and supporting equal pay for women.

The new political direction set by Warren led Senate Democrats to add the first-term senator to their leadership team. They created a position just for her: “Strategic Policy Adviser to the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.”

That means Warren will be at the table shaping the identity of Democrats in the Senate, as they become a loud, defiant minority beginning in January.

But Warren looms largest over the 2016 race.

Democratic strategists are openly worried that with President Obama leaving the stage, the base of their party — women, unions, young people and racial minorities — will lose interest in politics and splinter. That could allow a unified GOP to retake the White House. Warren’s focus on economic inequality is proving to be the glue holding the Democrats together.

Warren’s surprising power is evident in her ability to force Clinton, the former senator from Wall Street’s home state and a well-paid speaker for top brokerages, to go on the attack against income inequality.

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