DALLAS — What if you entered a presidential race and no one really cared?

That was the ho-hum reaction to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s New Year’s Eve announcement that she was forming a presidential exploratory committee.

She’s the first Democrat to take the step and so the media widely covered it, but she will have a lot of competition. Is she an odds-on favorite? Probably not.

First, politicians, like athletes in a long-distance race, can peak too soon and find themselves fading as competitors pass them by. That may be one of Warren’s problems.

Four years ago she was the darling of the Democratic Party’s small but growing progressive wing. Dissatisfied with Hillary Clinton, progressives urged Warren to enter the 2016 presidential race.

However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a strong Clinton supporter, reportedly offered Warren a Senate leadership position if she’d stay out of the race. Warren accepted, disappointing her supporters at the time.

But Vermont senator and self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders made no such promise. He challenged Clinton and championed a very progressive message, drawing huge crowds of energized, young supporters, and giving Clinton a real run for her money.

The result is Sanders became the de facto head of the progressives and Warren became yesterday’s news. Now she’s almost no one’s first choice.

Recent polls show Joe Biden, Beto O’Rourke and Sanders as the three top Democratic presidential contenders. Economic forecaster and publisher Kiplinger puts Warren in eighth place. And a recent poll published by The Hill has her in low single digits.

In other words, she’s gone from top to flop — or close to it. The election is two years off so Warren may be able to regain her mojo, but beer soirees and dubious ancestry claims haven’t helped.

Which brings us to the second point: genuineness.

Warren is considered a little cold and aloof — a criticism both she and Clinton share — so she’s trying to prove she’s “one of us.”

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When Democrats run in deep red states, they often appear in a political ad shooting a gun. It’s an effort to identify with red-state voters.

Warren’s in a blue state so the former Harvard professor decided to host an Instagram Live chat drinking a bottle of beer. It was painful to watch.

People who have never handled a gun look awkward — and staged — when they try. That’s how Warren looked with her beer bottle, asking her off-camera husband if he wanted one.

Professor Warren may be a frequent beer drinker — her favorite is Michelob Ultra, which alone may cost her some votes — but Harvard professors would appear more natural holding a glass of pinot noir.

Progressives are drawn to Sanders because he seems genuine; Warren’s efforts to appear genuine only make her appear less so.

Third, her claim to be part Native American, which has been largely dismissed and widely ridiculed, may not be her only exaggeration.

For better or worse, every serious presidential candidate becomes the target of opposition research, examining every detail of a candidate’s background.

Warren was once a Republican. Will researchers discover actions or statements that contradict her claims to progressivism?

If she handles future revelations as poorly as she has her Native American claim, she may be done for.

Elizabeth Warren is a successful, intelligent woman who worked her way up from a lower-middle class childhood. She has a good narrative.

But presidential campaigns are about energizing voters and attracting hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions. If a candidate can’t do those things, then he or she needs to bow out early.

Warren has time to prove she can do both and take the lead. But for now she seems to be chasing the progressive movement rather than leading it.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation. He holds a PhD in the Humanities from the University of Texas. Readers may write him at IPI, Suite 820, 1328 Greenway D Drive, Irving, TX 70538

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