Populist wave, push from left keeps alive talk about Warren, not Clinton, in 2016

The widespread speculation this week on whether Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren could upstage Hillary Clinton’s “coronation” as the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee has rankled fellow party members but appears just fine with Republicans.

Republicans suggest that Warren, among the Senate’s most liberal or progressive members, could ride the recent populist wave and force Clinton further to the left -- or at least slow her juggernaut and improve their chances in 2016.

“We’d welcome Elizabeth Warren to the race,” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski tells FoxNews.com. “It’s just another example of how Hillary will have a hard time making the sale within her own party, let alone the country.”

The election is three years away. And Clinton, widely popular in nearly all factions of the Democrat Party, already leads in practically every general election poll, resulting in widespread talk about the 2016 Democratic nomination essentially being a Clinton coronation, with no apparent unity among Republicans on who might emerge as their nominee.

The only outlier poll appears to be a Quinnipiac survey showing New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie leading the former first lady by 1 percentage point. But that was released in the immediate aftermath of Christie’s 20-point re-election victory. And he still faces questions about his conservative credentials in a primary expected -- like last year’s -- to be a conservative-vetting factory.

And polls overwhelming show Clinton with double-digit leads over conservative stars and potential GOP candidates Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

“Having a liberal, left-wing candidate like Sen. Warren makes running much easier for any Republican candidate because the public will view her as extreme,” said Ron Bonjean, a partner in Singer Bonjean Strategies and former press secretary to GOP Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.

“She’ll be portrayed as a Massachusetts liberal out of touch with middle class families, especially in battleground states like South Carolina and Ohio. I doubt she would be able to identify with those voters,” he told FoxNews.com on Wednesday.

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The Warren-for-president meme caught fire largely after a New York Times story in late September that called her the populist left’s “hot ticket.” And it appeared to have reached full blaze after a story Sunday by the liberal-leaning New Republic titled: “Hillary’s Worst Nightmare? A Democratic Party That Realizes its Soul Lies with Elizabeth Warren.”

The nine-page story waits until nearly the end to concede “Warren would probably lose,” but not before making the case that the political winds are now behind populist candidates, with community-activist-turned-New-York-City-Mayor Bill de Blasio topping the list.

The story’s other major point is that Warren, a member of the Senate Banking Committee and consumer advocate, stands in sharp contrast to Clinton and her close ties with Wall Street. (Clinton purportedly received $400,000 recently from investment bank Goldman Sachs for two speeches.)

Since winning election last year, the 64-year-old Warren has fought for a return to clearer separation between commercial and investment banks, a better deal for student-loan customers and purportedly helped knock Larry Summers out of contention for the Federal Reserve post.

And just this week, she pressed Janet Yellen, Obama’s eventual pick for the job, during her Senate confirmation hearing.

"Do you think that the Fed’s lack of attention to regulatory and supervisory responsibilities helped lead to the crash of 2008?" Warren asked.

Former Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, a longtime Clinton supporter, tried a few days earlier to squash the Warren chatter.

“If Hillary’s in the race, she has zero chance,” he told CNBC. “I helped Elizabeth Warren get elected to the Senate. If she calls and asks, I guess it’s three words I’d say: ‘Are you crazy?’ ”

However, other Democrats suggest the Warren story continues because the underpinnings are real.

Democrat strategist Ben Tulchin said he was ready to let go of the story until a reporter called, then about an hour later he walked past a bar and noticed Warren on a TV screen.

“Democrats love playing footsie with insurgents, especially from the left” said Tulchin, who would know, having worked on Howard Dean’s 2004 Democratic presidential campaign. “And there are grumblings on the left. That’s why the story won’t go away. There’s always an insurgent who makes the frontrunner sweat. So part of me says there is a path, if only a rocky and narrow one.”

Tulchin also acknowledges that Warren, a YouTube sensation, is not without flaws -- ones that Clinton and Republicans would exploit.

Warren faced allegations during her 2012 Senate campaign about whether she indeed is of Native American ancestry and used that distinction to get teaching jobs at Ivy League law schools. She also appeared to lay the groundwork, in a 2011 speech, for President Obama’s stump speech a year later in which he said: “If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Challenger Mitt Romney and fellow Republicans seized on the line, and were able to knock the president off message late in the campaign.

In addition, Warren, a fundraiser with a long donor list, would still face financial challenges competing with Clinton, who with husband and former President Bill Clinton is a prolific fundraiser.

The 2016 nominees will likely have to match the combined $2.3 billion that the Romney and Obama campaigns spent in 2012.

“She will raise zero money,” Rendell said.