Last weekend, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren looked just like the populist rabble-rouser Massachusetts progressives thought she would be when they elected her in 2012.
At the AFL-CIO's quadrennial convention, she gave a "speech chock full of items at the top of the list for many liberals," wrote The Washington Post's Carter Eskew, including calls for a higher minimum wage and the return of Glass-Steagall, the law putting a wall between commercial and investment banking that was repealed by President Bill Clinton in 1999.
Her speech really made headlines, however, when she attacked the Supreme Court for frequently ruling for corporations.
"Follow this pro-corporate trend to its logical conclusion," she said, "and sooner or later you'll end up with a Supreme Court that functions as a wholly owned subsidiary of big business."
In the most dramatic moment of the speech, she loudly repeated, "Our agenda is America's agenda!" to a standing ovation.
As Politico's Alexander Burns wrote, labor unions have soured on many Democrats lately over worries that there has been a "decoupling" in the party "of progressive economic ideas and the political institutions dedicated to advancing them."
Not that the AFL-CIO is looking to jump ship to the GOP. But, come the next presidential election, it could put its political muscle behind a candidate who it views as a champion for labor's causes — someone like Warren.
Along with her popularity among liberal voters, that could put her in contention in 2016.
"There has always been a powerful strain in Democratic presidential politics, called 'liberal' or 'populist' or 'progressive,' which…is anti-establishment," wrote Eskew in the Post. Warren could fit nicely within that tradition, he added:
Gene McCarthy started the trend, and it continued: George McGovern in 1972; Gary Hart against Walter Mondale in 1984; Paul Tsongas in 1992, Bill Bradley in 2000, and Howard Dean in 2004. These candidacies attracted a core of supporters, usually whiter and more upscale economically than the average Democratic primary voter, and they racked up some electrifying wins or narrow losses before running out of gas. [Washington Post]
With a weak economy, an outsider running on a platform of aggressive Wall Street reform and expanding government programs could make waves in 2016.
"If no candidate endorses these positions there's absolutely room for a Howard Dean, Elizabeth Warren-type of candidate," Matt Wall, press secretary for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, told ABC News. "That's popular in Democratic states, and our polling shows that it's popular even in Republican states."
Warren also has an advantage over potential front-runners like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden, wrote The Daily Beast's Daniel Gross, because they can't "run hard and comfortably against the economic record of the past six years" and probably won't take "swipes at the Obama administration."
That leaves Warren as the most likely Dean-esque populist in 2016. That is, unless Dean himself decides to run — a possibility he has given mixed signals about. (Publicly, he has supported Clinton.)
Of course, Dean's 2004 presidential ambitions ended with an embarrassing scream, not the former Vermont governor in the White House. Why would Warren's run be any different?
As Gross noted, 2008 featured a "a liberal senator from a liberal state" who ran against Clinton and Biden after only one term in the Senate. He even got re-elected four years later.