Biden is clear front-runner, for now
Joe Biden has emerged as the clear front-runner in the race for the Democratic nomination, and that’s a big deal. For now.
Biden is not just ahead of his countless rivals, he’s way ahead. Bernie Sanders is closest, but not by much.
The Morning Consult poll says Biden leads Sanders by 24 points, 44% to 20% percent, among likely Democratic primary voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Those are the first four states to hold nominating contests, so they matter.
The former vice president has enjoyed a 10-point jump in the two polls conducted since he launched his bid for the presidency last month. That’s a surge unmatched by any other candidate in the race, most of whom have fallen back into single digits.
The Monmouth University poll also showed him to have a solid lead in New Hampshire, home of the nation’s first (and sometimes most important) primary.
In that poll, Biden is preferred by a full 36% of Granite State Democrats, exactly twice the percentage who like Sanders.
Behind them, only three candidates are above 2% support in New Hampshire — Pete Buttigieg (9%), Elizabeth Warren (8%) and Kamala Harris (6%).
You could claim that this is mostly due to name recognition, but Sanders and Warren are also well-known to Democratic voters. No matter how the other candidates try to spin it, this is a strong start for Biden. He has quickly become the person to beat, the one whose views will get the most media coverage and influence other candidates.
And if I can go out on a limb, I don’t think Democratic voters are going to choose a socialist like Bernie Sanders for their nominee. (If they do, they’ll hand the election to Donald Trump.) This means that all of Biden’s other competitors — all of them, mind you — are polling in single digits.
But as impressive as this is for Biden, there’s one huge drawback. The calendar.
It’s early, very early in the nominating process, and a lot of voters simply aren’t paying much attention to a presidential race that officially begins in eight months in the snowy towns of New Hampshire and Iowa.
Moreover, front-runners clearly don’t always get the nomination, or win the presidency.
Hillary Clinton was a huge front-runner in the race for the Democratic nomination in 2008, and she didn’t get it. A man who started out virtually unknown beyond his home state — Barack Obama — did. Clinton had the same status in 2016 and was able to outlast Bernie Sanders (with some difficulty, it must be added), but she ended up watching Donald Trump take the oath of office.
Biden is also 77, the oldest person in this race in either party. (Trump is “only” 72 now.) Biden is a healthy 77, and perhaps it shouldn’t matter, but the plain truth is that some voters will think he’s too old for this demanding job.
Democrats are also in a vengeful mood after two years of Trump’s presidency, and many party activists want a younger nominee, one who might be a woman or minority. Biden is, of course, none of those things.
But he was Obama’s vice president, and few people actively dislike him. He seems to have gotten past the Gropegate scandal that once threatened to stop his candidacy before it began. He can raise a ton of money, and knows almost every Democratic operative from Long Island to Long Beach.
He’s also one of the few Democratic candidates (perhaps the only one, frankly) who can appeal to blue-collar Joes and Janes in Red states. In what will almost certainly be a close race, the Democratic nominee will need people like that to win crucial swing states like Missouri, Virginia, Michigan, etc. So even though it’s early, the Biden bump is not a fluke.
The numbers will probably stay the same over the summer, when everyone is distracted and putting politics on the back burner. But if Biden is still strong in the fall, the race will become his to lose, and some other candidate will have to make a dramatic launch out of single-digit land to challenge him.
One of them might surprise us all and do just that. On the other hand, don’t be surprised if you see a couple of guys in their 70s squaring off in the presidential debates.
Thomas Taschinger, TTaschinger@BeaumontEnterprise.com, is the editorial page editor of The Beaumont Enterprise. Follow him at Twitter.com/@PoliticalTom