Pundits rolled their eyes on New Year’s Eve when Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic US senator from Massachusetts, announced she had taken the first steps to run for president.
She was too schoolmarmish, too serious in her focus on policy over personality, especially in the face of bombast from President Donald Trump.
Her decision to take a DNA test to find out whether she had Native American ancestry became a blunder when tribe leaders denounced her.
Conventional wisdom declared that Ms Warren was destined to be a back-of-the-pack candidate, overshadowed by alpha males such as Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, and far less interesting than people of colour such as Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Julian Castro.
And, if you wanted a wonk, there was Pete Buttigieg, the multilingual Harvard and Oxford-educated mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who had the added credentials of being gay and a military veteran.
Nevertheless, to quote the expression used about her tactics on the Senate floor, she persisted.
And now, Senator Warren is rising to the top of the presidential pack, seemingly by being herself.
In recent weeks, she’s scored the kind of achievements that scorekeepers track in successful candidates.
The latter declared:
“On many economic issues, Warren has been remarkably prescient. She has spent decades warning Americans about the pernicious effects of income inequality, predatory corporations, and consumer debt, and about the failures of our financial system — issues that are at the heart of the 2020 Presidential campaign”.
The profile went on:
“Now, as one of 23 candidates seeking to become the Democratic nominee for President, Warren is betting that the energy behind her ideas can appeal to enough swing-state voters to get her into office”.
Meanwhile, Ms Warren has begun performing well in the public opinion horse race that consumes some political junkies.
She came in second in a series of fresh political polls.
On Sunday, a CBS News poll of 18 states placed Ms Warren behind Mr Biden when voters were asked who they would consider supporting.
Ms Harris, Senator Sanders and Mr Buttigieg all came in several points behind her.
In a poll of likely California primary voters, Ms Warren was tied in second place with Mr Sanders behind Mr Biden.
And, Ms Warren is widely viewed as having scored an advantage over some of her fellow Democrats in the first of a series of upcoming candidate debates.
With so many people running, the Democratic debate committee placed candidates in two groups.
Mr Biden, Mr Sanders and Mr Buttigieg are among those in the first group.
Ms Warren was placed in the second group, where analysts believe she stands a strong chance to stand out from her field.
Rick Klein, an analyst on America’s ABC News, said the June 26 debate would be a “prime opportunity” for Ms Warren — assuming that she or any of the others will get enough air time to make their points.
But Ms Warren is standing out in another way.
While many journalists were focussed during winter and spring on the bombast of Mr Sanders or the uniqueness of Mr Buttigieg, Ms Warren was drawing hundreds and thousands of people, many of them women, to her appearances.
And they don’t just go away having heard her speak.
Ms Warren has become notable for her organised ability to take photos with anyone who wants one — including members of her campaign staff.
Her campaign estimates that she has spent more than 90 hours meeting voters in the “selfie line,” resulting in 28,000 pictures.
Many of them are then posted to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, causing her image as an accessible candidate to reverberate.
Ms Warren has used social media to riff on her reputation as having a plan for practically any policy matter.
The pundits’ sudden discovery of Ms Warren is in parts amusing and other parts telling.
Amusing, because so many political watchers had already declared the race to be between Mr Biden and Mr Sanders, only to have Ms Warren come up behind them, like a jockey timing a horse’s advance.
But telling, because it was so widely assumed that Democrats would prefer a white male candidate in 2020, after having successfully elected a black candidate in 2008 and 2012, only to lose when Hillary Clinton ran in 2016.
Yet, it is clear that Ms Warren’s resume prepares her amply for the issues Americans are wrestling with in this election.
Even before she entered politics, Ms Warren, then a Harvard professor, was known for her advocacy on the part of consumers.
She has battled big companies for years, and successfully fought for stricter consumer protection laws. She raised issues of economic inequality even before Mr Trump leveraged them to take the White House in 2016.
Since deciding to run, Ms Warren has been one of the clearest candidates on a variety of traditional American issues, from the right to join unions, to defending immigrants, to grants aimed at helping minority businesses, to affordable access to college education.
She also has taken on the Democrats’ most powerful woman, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, by insisting that there should be an impeachment process for Mr Trump, a call she first made in April.
Thus far, Ms Pelosi is resisting Ms Warren’s call and that of other Democrats and Republicans for an inquiry.
But Ms Warren is known for her persistence.
It is clearly paying off in her campaign.
Micheline Maynard is an American author and journalist.