Is Elizabeth Warren the Democrats' top candidate for 2016?

Confirming the impression I’d gleaned from my conversations with activists and organizers, Warren ran away with the 2016 straw poll conducted at the Take Back the American Dream conference in Washington, winning 32 percent of the vote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 27 percent. Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who spoke at the conference and whose brand of gravelly-voiced populism is a perpetual hit with this crowd, was third with 16 percent; the other names on the ballot, all polling in single digits, were New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Vice President Joe Biden, and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner.

It tells you something about Warren’s status as a rock star of the left that before the Massachusetts Senate candidate has even won her first election she’s being pumped as a future presidential candidate. But it tells you even more about the status of the Democratic farm team. There are precious few tabbed for political stardom in the Democratic ranks the way Obama was starting in 2004 or the way Marco Rubio is adored on the right today…

Many Democrats acknowledge the looming talent gap and give the GOP credit for its candidate recruitment and training in recent years. They are trying to match that effort down the line: Numerous sessions at the Take Back conference focused on candidate development at the minor-league level, informed in part by state-level controversies that have recently made national news, from the recent Wisconsin recall to numerous states’ abortion-ultrasound bills. Even as they had trouble coming up with names for 2016, many at the conference were eager to tout up-and-coming candidates currently incubating at the state legislative or congressional-contender level…

Many on the left defend the lack of readily apparent future presidential candidates by saying they’re building a movement, not a cult of personality. “I see the progressive movement as the rising star in the Democratic Party,” Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota said in an interview.