She has been a United States senator since only January, but could Elizabeth Warren be considered a formidable Democratic contender in the next presidential election? A new poll suggests the answer might be “yes.”

In the independent Quinnipiac University’s list of “hottest” leaders in the U.S., the Massachusetts Democrat ranked third, right behind New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Also of note, she scores ahead of other politicians whose names are routinely mentioned as potential candidates in the next presidential election, including Vice President Joe Biden, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Writing about the results of the political thermometer, The Washington Post’s The Fix blog noted Tuesday that, immediately after the Senate election in November, Warren was among a handful of Democrats whom it listed as the “most likely” to be the party’s candidate in the 2016 presidential election. On Nov. 7, 2012, Chris Cillizza had this to say about the newly elected senator:

Warren…seems uninterested in running for president, at least according to her political people, but is a rock star among the liberal left and, as she demonstrated in her Senate race, can raise money like few other people in the party.

In light of the new poll, Cillizza and Sean Sullivan explain not only why the latest numbers matter, but also why Warren shouldn’t be underestimated as a possible presidential candidate.

The Washington Post’s The Fix:

Here’s why the thermometer matters — and matters for Warren in particular. It’s a measure of passion, which is, of course, the sine qua non of politics. While passion isn’t everything — fundraising matters, organization matters — it’s hard to get elected to anything without passionate supporters.

And, Warren quite clearly evokes that passion. Need examples beyond the poll? Warren collected more than $42 million for her 2012 Senate campaign, a massive sum that is indicative of the passion — and national following — that Warren evokes. Then there is the speech she gave at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, which, if you forgot, was among the best received addresses of the gathering.

All of the above is not to say Warren is running for president. She has avoided most national press – and the press more generally — since coming to Washington and her political team insist that she is genuinely un-intrigued by a run for president.

We buy that. But, we have watched campaigns long enough to understand that the ability to evoke genuine, organic passion in potential voters is the rarest and most critical of all candidate characteristics. Warren has that ability, whether or not she wants to use it in 2016 — or beyond.

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