That gives an extraordinary amount of independent power to a woman who isn't the least bit shy about wielding it.

She is, in her own way, too big to fail.

Modified Clinton strategy

"I don't want to wake up in six years and say: 'I scattered my fire across a wide range and changed nothing.' No. For me, that's a nightmare. It's something I've thought about every single day."

Senator Warren, a youthful and energetic 63, has an infectious intensity in conversation; she veers almost manically from righteous anger to passionate empathy to raucous humor, but it all flows easily and almost forces a connection with her audience — in this case, a reporter receiving a rare sit-down interview in her temporary Senate office in the Dirksen building courtyard extension.

Warren is among a group of "silent senators" called out by Politico for shunning the national media. That's not a shock to Massachusetts journalists, who complained throughout last year's campaign about their lack of direct access. It is also, undoubtedly, part of a strategy to avoid the appearance of hogging the limelight — and to heighten attention for moments when she does want to be heard.

Politico and its ilk matter to the chattering Beltway classes, but at this moment Warren sees her constituents as the Massachusetts voters; the middle- and working-class people across America; and the 99 other senators who can assist or thwart her efforts.

Those reporters she ignores in the hallways and tunnels are just a part of the huge demand for a piece of Warren. She is perhaps the hottest property in Washington right now; everyone wants her to take a meeting on their issue, speak at their event, or co-sponsor their bill. And most of all, her fellow Democrats want her to lend her name, her mailing list, or her presence to their campaign fundraising effort.

Meanwhile, she's taking charge of constituent services, without a senior senator to lean on. And she is.putting together a staff — wisely starting with a highly respected duo of Mindy Myers as chief of staff and Roger Lau as state director. Myers ran Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's office before managing Warren's campaign last year; Lau, a long-time John Kerry hand, has been a fixture of Bay State Democratic politics for more than a decade.

Pulled in all these directions, Warren is limiting her public activity to things directly focused on the her key issues — which included, the day I interviewed her in Washington, the minimum-wage hearing as well as a speech to the Consumer Federation of America.

"It's basically what I ran on," she says. "The economics of America's working families, and making the banking system work."

It's a modified Hillary Clinton strategy, says Jim Manley, senior director at Quinn Gillespie & Associates in Washington, and former Ted Kennedy press secretary. Warren can "pick and choose" when to speak, he says — for example, at the Banking Committee hearings. "Those are the issues she knows best."

"I think she has the confidence that comes from having been a leader on these kinds of consumer issues for years," says Minnesota Senator Al Franken — a progressive colleague on the HELP Committee who knows a thing or two about arriving in Washington as a celebrity senator. "She is principled and very brilliant on these issues. She's picking her spots, and she's certainly not shy about speaking her mind."

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