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Elizabeth Warren rides wave of support at Netroots Nation

Whether or not Sen. Elizabeth Warren makes a White House bid in 2016, her anti-Wall Street rhetoric is already having an outsize effect on the Democratic party.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, (D-MA) waves to the crowd after her introduction at the Netroots Nation conference in Detroit, on July 18, 2014.

DETROIT -- Elizabeth Warren’s keynote speech to Netroots Nation, a gathering of progressive activists from around the country, began with what has become a familiar dynamic for the Massachusetts senator.

She took the stage to rowdy chants of “Run Liz Run!” 

To which she immediately replied: “Sit down, sit down, sit down!”

She then launched into her speech, a relentless stream of righteous fury directed at “big banks,” “powerful corporations,” and “sleazy lobbyists” conspiring to exploit working Americans.

“We will fight and we will win -- that’s my message today,” Warren said to cheers.

Warren’s willingness to pound away at Wall Street with abandon has some progressives hoping she challenges former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016. A new group called Ready For Warren, run by a former Obama campaign staffer, handed out signs and hats ahead of her speech encouraging her to run for president. Afterward, they released a folk music video featuring clips of her speech.

But as her response to the "Run Liz Run!" chants suggests, there have been few indications Warren wants to run for president in 2016, and plenty to the contrary -- not least of which are her own denials and vocal support for Clinton. But she also put out a book this year and is an in-demand Democratic surrogate and fundraiser. Few Democrats can rouse a crowd like she can.

“Conservatives and their powerful friends will continue to be guided by their internal motto: I got mine, the rest of you are on your own,” she said on Friday. “We're guided by principle and it’s a pretty simple idea: We all do better when we work together and invest in building a future.”

Watching Warren rally a group of core supporters, her tone made for a stark contrast with Clinton and President Barack Obama even as she talked about similar policies like taxing the rich and raising the minimum wage. While the latter two tend to present themselves as a reasonable mediator between patriotic Americans with opposing views on achieving prosperity, Warren’s speeches almost uniformly paint her opponents as tools of corporate power acting in bad faith to achieve shadowy and illegitimate goals.

“When conservatives talk about opportunity, they mean opportunity for the rich to get richer and the powerful to get more powerful,” Warren said in her remarks. “They don’t mean opportunities for a young person with $100,000 of student loan debt to try to build a future. They don’t mean opportunities for someone out of work to get back on their feet.”

Summing up her speech, she added: ”The game is rigged and the rich and the powerful have lobbyists and lawyers and plenty of friends in Congress. Everyone else not so much.” 

Supporters at the Detroit event are concerned that Clinton is too close to the business community and that her husband, former President Bill Clinton, presided over deregulation that helped lay the foundation for the financial excesses that Warren has devoted her political career to curbing. They want someone who won’t hesitate to call out corporate interests by name and then hit them with everything she’s got.

“There’s no bullshit factor with Elizabeth Warren,” Judy Hertz, a Warren supporter in from Chicago, told msnbc. “She says what needs to be said and then fights for it."

A Warren run wouldn’t be easy. Polls show Clinton with a dominant lead in a potential Democratic primary matchup and -- Netroots audiences aside -- a sky-high approval rating among liberal Democrats, the wing of the party who presumably would be most amenable to a Warren challenge. 

But she’s certainly keeping her name in the spotlight. While Obama’s sagging approval ratings have forced him to the sidelines in red and purple states, Warren’s popularity may provide the biggest boost available for Democratic candidates right now. She stumped for West Virginia Democratic hopeful Natalie Tennant this week and traveled to Kentucky last month to support Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes. 

Many of these candidates have adopted populist tones not dissimilar from Warren's own speeches. Whether or not she ultimately runs for president, her influence will be felt in 2016 regardless as the party adopts a more strident message on inequality. 

Rep. Gary Peters, the Democratic nominee for Senate in Michigan, introduced her at Netroots and appeared with her at a fundraiser at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino where she received a rock star reception from local Democrats.

"[Republicans] have tried to push this country in a direction that says, in effect, I got mine, the rest of you are on your own," Warren said at the fundraiser, echoing her earlier remarks. 

Michelle Fecteau, 53, a delegate on the state Board of Education, took a video with Warren afterward for her husband, who wasn't able to make it. 

"My husband said he'd only leave me for one woman -- that's her," she told reporters afterwards.