Why Elizabeth Warren Is Winning Even Though She Isn't Running

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has been out on the hustings over the last few weeks, appearing with Democratic Senate candidates and electrifying crowds with her singular brand of economic populism.

Despite her disavowal of any plans to run for president in 2016, her campaign appearances have heightened speculation that she is, indeed, dipping a toe in the water to test audience responses to her favorite themes: evil Wall Street bankers, oppressive student loan debt, the greedy billionaire plutocrats, and crazy Republicans.

But Warren appears to be sincere about sidelining herself for 2016. A group calling itself "Ready for Warren" launched a website recently to promote her candidacy. Warren spokeswoman Lacey Rose said in an email to Politico that the senator “does not support this effort.” Of course, no politician would completely rule out a run. But conditions would have to change dramatically for that to happen.

That's because despite urban myths to the contrary, recent polling data shows that Hillary Clinton is extremely popular with the far left of her party -- more so than with Democratic Party moderates, according to Aaron Blake:

* A Washington Post/ABC News poll this month showed Clinton taking a bigger share of the vote in the 2016 primary among self-described liberals (72 percent) than among moderate and conservative Democrats (60 percent).

* The same poll shows 18 percent of moderate Democrats don't want Clinton to run. Just 6 percent of liberal Democrats agree.

This is not to say that the prospect of a Warren candidacy wouldn't siphon off some of those liberals who now support Clinton. It just isn't likely there would be enough of them to seriously challenge the frontrunner.

So what is Elizabeth Warren doing campaigning in red states? Democrats believe they can exploit the anger that many middle and working class people feel toward Wall Street and the rich and that there is simply no better messenger in their party to gin up the outrage than Elizabeth Warren.

In West Virginia, Warren lit into GOP Senate candidate Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, accusing her of being a tool of Wall Street bankers.

"When [Wall Street] needs her, [Capito's] been there," Warren said in a packed hotel ballroom. "She's out there for Wall Street, she's leading the charge. ... We need some more people who are willing to work on the side of America's families."

Herein lies the divide in the Democratic Party and is the main reason Warren is so popular. The left may be supporting Hillary Clinton as a practical matter. But they are still skeptical of her allegiance to their issues and their worldview. Nor does Clinton help her case with the Democratic base when she acts like one of the 1%. Noam Scheiber of The New Republic:

On her own time, Clinton has enjoyed several six-figure paydays speaking to corporate executives, including two at Goldman Sachs that netted her an estimated $400,000. And, of course, she has repeatedly struggled to justify all the buckraking, telling Diane Sawyer that she and her husband were “dead broke” when they left the White House. “There’s a lot of vulnerability in the Clinton record going back to Glass-Steagall [the landmark banking regulation her husband mothballed],” says a longtime Democratic presidential operative. “It’s obviously reinforced by this silliness about being broke.”

Scheiber also delineates the real fault line in the Democratic Party. With the news filled with reports from the front line of the GOP civil war, not much is said about the Democrats' own struggles to define their party for 2016 and beyond.