Biden's surge and Warren's resilience are bad news for Sanders

Joe Biden’s entry into the presidential race and Elizabeth Warren’s impressive performance on the campaign trail are bad news for Bernie Sanders.

Three polls released this week gave the former vice president a huge bump following his announcement that he was entering the crowded Democratic field, widening his lead over Sanders by a significant margin.

Monday’s Morning Consult poll had Biden leading the Vermont senator by 14 percentage points, a gain of 8 points from the previous week. Tuesday’s CNN survey showed Biden ahead of Sanders by 24 percent, up from an 8-point advantage the month before. And Quinnipiac’s latest poll, also released Tuesday, had Biden up on Sanders by a whopping 27 points, a 17-point rise from a poll the university conducted in March.

Quinnipiac’s results also showed Warren edging out Sanders for second place.

That shift was not lost on Sanders, who wasted little time going after Biden.

Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren on the rise and Bernie Sanders. (Yahoo News photo Illustration; photos: AP, Getty Images)
Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. (Yahoo News photo illustration; photos: AP, Getty Images)

“I helped lead the fight against [NAFTA]. He voted for NAFTA,” Sanders said in a Monday interview with CNN. “I helped lead the fight against [trade relations] with China. He voted for it. I strongly opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He supported it. I voted against the war in Iraq. He voted for it.”

While political analysts caution that polling the race this far ahead of the first primaries and caucuses doesn’t accurately predict who will win the nomination, Biden’s bounce has impressed.

“I didn’t expect Biden to have a surge and he did. I think that’s a good thing for him,” Howard Dean, the former head of the Democratic National Committee and a presidential contender himself in 2004, told Yahoo News. Dean noted that when he ran in the Democratic primary in 2004, he was virtually unknown to voters at this stage in the race. Then, suddenly, “I was leading the pack.”

“I do think Biden’s move is significant, but we have so far to go,” Dean said.

Veteran political consultant Bob Shrum, who worked on the presidential campaigns of John Kerry, Al Gore and Ted Kennedy, agreed that the jump in Biden’s lead over Sanders is noteworthy.

“It’s early and other polling doesn’t report the same results except for a Biden surge,” Shrum said.

The Quinnipiac survey had more bad news for Sanders, with Warren, the Massachusetts senator, besting him in a poll for the first time.

Longtime friends, Warren and Sanders draw much of their support from the same progressive political base. The two met at Warren’s Washington condominium in December to discuss their presidential ambitions, with both ultimately deciding that there was room on the left for two progressives to run.

Sanders, who ran conspicuously to the left of Hillary Clinton in his 2016 campaign, has yet to try to distinguish himself from Warren.

For her part, Warren has emerged as the candidate in the field with the most specific and numerous policy proposals, but also as someone whose energy and enthusiasm engages voters on the stump.

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While Sanders raised more money — $20.7 million — than any other candidate in the Democratic field in the first quarter, Warren came in second with $16.5 million. Biden reported raising more on his first day in the race, $6.3 million, than any other Democratic candidate.

Although it’s too early to tell whether Warren’s lead over Sanders will hold, it’s clear that if Warren is seen as a viable candidate, she could end up siphoning voters away from Sanders.

“Warren is a point ahead of Sanders, which is well within the margin of error. But this survey does suggest that while Sanders has a hard-core base, he may have trouble expanding it, and there’s no sign he’s doing so now,” Shrum said. “Warren marches to her own drummer, with a rapid succession of substantive proposals, and has gained ground at the expense of Sanders — if this polling is right.”

Dean cautions that there’s still too little evidence to show definitively that Warren’s strength is making Sanders weaker.

“There’s no way of knowing that because nobody knows why people are voting for Warren,” Dean said. “Maybe they’re voting because they like her as a person, maybe they’re voting because of her policies. You can speculate all you want. Even a pollster with a really extensive poll couldn’t know that.”

Yet Warren is showing that her candidacy may not flame out quickly, as many pundits initially predicted. For Dean, who knows a thing or two about quick exits from a presidential race, Warren appears poised to emerge from the pack.

“There’s going to be five or six people who are going to make it through the first four contests, which is a lot, and then California is going to be the great sifter,” Dean said.

For Sanders to reclaim his standing as the frontrunner, he will need to draw voters away from Biden, Warren and the rest of the field by demonstrating that he has the quality Democratic voters want above all: the ability to win in 2020.

“I believe the Democratic primary campaign will not be an identity derby or an ideological showdown; instead, the dominant and decisive question will be who has the best chance to beat Trump,” Shrum said.


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