WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 22:  U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks during a rally in front of the Capitol March 22, 2017 in Washington, DC. Sanders urged the U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to reject President Donald Trump's nomination of Jay Clayton to head the Securities and Exchange Commission.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Alex Wong/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 22: U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks during a rally in front of the Capitol March 22, 2017 in Washington, DC. Sanders urged the U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to reject President Donald Trump's nomination of Jay Clayton to head the Securities and Exchange Commission. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:25
Warren to face obstacles as she eyes 2020 bid
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 05: Sen. John Cornyn (R) (R-TX) talks with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) while walking to the U.S. Senate chamber for a vote March 05, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Senate continues to debate the latest COVID-19 relief bill.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Win McNamee/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 05: Sen. John Cornyn (R) (R-TX) talks with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) while walking to the U.S. Senate chamber for a vote March 05, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Senate continues to debate the latest COVID-19 relief bill. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:54
Axelrod breaks down Manchin's surprising move
sinema
PHOTO: CNN
sinema
Now playing
01:50
Senator's move has many on the internet outraged
PHOTO: FBI
Now playing
02:58
Trump State Department official charged in Capitol riot
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: U.S. Sen. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) speaks on the floor of the House Chamber during a joint session of congress on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: U.S. Sen. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) speaks on the floor of the House Chamber during a joint session of congress on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:19
This is what Rep. Gosar was posting days before Capitol riot
John King Magic Wall 0305
PHOTO: CNN
John King Magic Wall 0305
Now playing
02:17
President Biden sending a team to the US-Mexico border
Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner  attends a press conference on September 4, 2020, in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/AFP via Getty Images
Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner attends a press conference on September 4, 2020, in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
Now playing
02:50
Jared Kushner disappears from Trump's inner circle
Rep john garamendi 0305
PHOTO: CNN
Rep john garamendi 0305
Now playing
02:33
Rep. Garamendi: Any lawmaker involved in Capitol riots ought to be thrown out of Congress
Protesters gather at Lincoln Park to demand the Emancipation Memorial be taken down on June 23, 2020 in Washington, DC.
PHOTO: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
Protesters gather at Lincoln Park to demand the Emancipation Memorial be taken down on June 23, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Now playing
03:01
Why some people want this Abraham Lincoln statue taken down
psaki
PHOTO: CNN
psaki
Now playing
00:56
Psaki fires back at Trump testing czar over vaccine claims
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
03:04
Avlon: Pence's op-ed is 'way worse than Stockholm syndrome'
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
01:35
See what security looks like outside US Capitol
PHOTO: Gov. Cuomo's office
Now playing
03:35
Gov. Andrew Cuomo addresses women's allegations
Cuomo
PHOTO: Gov. Cuomo's Office
Cuomo
Now playing
00:56
Cuomo says he has no plans to resign
Now playing
04:51
Elected Republican who supports Biden's bill speaks out
President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting about cancer in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, March 3, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
PHOTO: Alex Brandon/AP
President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting about cancer in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, March 3, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Now playing
01:20
'Neanderthal thinking': Biden on states lifting mask restrictions

Editor’s Note: David Axelrod, CNN senior political commentator, is host of the podcast “The Axe Files,” now a regularly featured show on CNN. He was senior adviser to President Barack Obama and chief strategist for the 2008 and 2012 Obama presidential campaigns. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. View more opinion articles on CNN.com.

(CNN) —  

For those who had somehow escaped this jarring reality, the Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren offered a little reminder on New Year’s Eve that Campaign 2020 is upon us. Strike up the band!

David Axelrod
PHOTO: John Nowak
David Axelrod

And cue the pundits, who wasted little time assessing her chances and the meaning of her early announcement. (Yes, it was for an exploratory committee, but come on, folks! Watch the video. She’s in!)

Is Warren the new and improved Bernie Sanders, a woman AND a populist, who could combine these robust bases to ride to the nomination?

Or is she too strident? Too stilted? Too old? Too reactive, as reflected by the ill-conceived video she released shortly before the midterm elections to try to quell doubts about her claim to Native American ancestry? All she seemed to accomplish was to give President Donald Trump another opportunity to gleefully trot out his tiresome Pocahontas routine yet again.

Anyone who makes confident predictions today about the next presidential election clearly didn’t learn from the last. Humility is in order, particularly in handicapping a field already as long as the holiday lines at Disney World.

With that disclaimer, let me dive headlong into the pundit pool and say that Warren will be a major player among the cavalcade of Democrats now queuing up.

We live in times of revolutionary change. Technology and globalization have created enormous opportunity for some, and disruption and stagnation for many. Decades of policies in Washington, pushed by an army of special interest lobbyists, have accelerated these trends. This is a case Warren has been making since long before she left Harvard and entered public life.

Her pioneering book, “The Two Income Trap,” about the mounting economic pressure on working families, was required reading among Democrats and progressive politicians in the mid-2000s.

If biography is prologue, the cause of the embattled middle class is a natural one for Warren. Her hardscrabble upbringing in rural Oklahoma and struggle as a young single mother to raise her children and pursue an education are powerful validators.

I served in the White House when Warren, then a special House counsel, was pummeling treasury officials over treatment of Wall Street executives who were culpable in the financial crisis. I saw her inaugurate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the government watchdog that saved billions for consumers before the Trump administration relegated it to the sidelines.

She has offered a series of serious ideas about government and Wall Street reform, and is one of the most incisive members of the Senate.

Warren also has laid the groundwork for her candidacy more assiduously than most, running an extensive, sophisticated operation in 2018 to help Democratic candidates around the country, even as she ran for re-election to the Senate. She raised tens of millions for these dual operations and still has $12 million in the bank.

As Sanders proved on 2016, there is an audience for the hard-edged populism Warren loudly proclaimed in her announcement video. Many Americans are fed up with the hegemony of Wall Street and the stranglehold of lobbyists, a trend made worse by Trump, despite his iconic campaign pledge to “drain the swamp.”

The 2018 elections demonstrated the powerful appeal of women on the ballot, both in Democratic primaries and general elections. And the nation’s first primary will take place in New Hampshire, which shares the Boston media market with Massachusetts.

All this makes Warren a contender. It doesn’t mean she’ll win. If Sanders or other populists – Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Jeff Merkley of Oregon – enter the race, her climb becomes steeper. There will be other women, all younger than Warren, who is nearing 70. There will be candidates of color, better positioned to compete in the crucial state of South Carolina and beyond.

Democrats may, ultimately, choose a candidate with a more uplifting and unifying message in response to a relentlessly divisive President, or a candidate with a less edgy and dogmatic vision of capitalism than Warren’s. Some fear Warren could drive away the suburban voters who delivered Democrats the House in 2018.

And, despite an extraordinary personal story and genuine, long-standing commitment to her principles, Warren’s presentation sometimes can seem wooden and inauthentic.

Still, Warren is powerfully intelligent, and indefatigable in pursuit of her goals – the very traits that helped lift the janitor’s daughter from modest beginnings to this moment. These are indispensable qualities any winning candidate for president of the United States must own.

This commentary was updated from an earlier version.