The Corner


What Would It Take to Topple Biden in the Primary?

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks with supporters in Marshalltown, Iowa, July 4, 2019. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

After two rounds of debates, Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden still appears to be maintaining a solid lead in the primary — and it isn’t clear that any of the frontrunners have much of a shot at overtaking him. As I wrote last week just before the two nights of primary debates in Detroit, the former vice president hasn’t done much to earn his frontrunner status aside from being the most well-known politician in the race.

He’s also helped a great deal by the fact that he stands alone as the most viable candidate who can remotely claim the mantle of being a moderate. In a recent poll of Ohio, he was the only Democrat to lead President Trump in a hypothetical matchup, and for a lot of Democratic voters, that’s the most important qualification for a potential nominee. Primary voters who prefer a more left-wing option, meanwhile, are splitting their support among the several other politicians in the race offering more-progressive proposals.

This read of the primary thus far has been borne out by most of the early polling, and the handful of surveys taken over the last week since the most recent debates confirms it. Very little has changed as a result of the two debate nights, even though much of the second night was spent with various other frontrunners lashing out at Biden in the hopes of somehow dethroning him.

A Morning Consult poll out on Friday found that 32 percent of Democratic primary voters said they’d like Biden to be the nominee. Just after the first round of debates in late June, Morning Consult found that 33 percent of primary voters had Biden as their first choice. A Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday likewise showed that 32 percent of Democrats and independent voters who lean Democratic favor the former vice president. Very little has changed for him as a result of last week’s debates.

One change from the June debates, however, was the lack of shuffling within the second tier of candidates. Immediately after June’s NBC debates, California senator Kamala Harris saw a huge bump in support as a result of what many considered to be a dominant performance, especially her optically successful jab at Biden over his record on racial issues. Morning Consult polling had Harris doubling her support, from 6 to 12 percent, and the first few major surveys showed her in a decisive second place behind Biden.

This time, not much changed. Comparing Morning Consult data before and after the late-July debates, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders remained steady at 18-percent support, South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg remained at 6 percent, and New Jersey senator Cory Booker and former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke continued to sit at 3 percent apiece. Harris actually dropped a bit, from 13 to 10 percent. The only candidate to see even a minor jump in support was Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, who went from 13 to 15 percent.

The problem for Democrats who would prefer a non-Biden candidate is simple: Which alternative do you really want? And right now, judging from an array of surveys in early primary states, the second choice to the former vice president varies widely. Although it’s still early, and there’s plenty of time for Biden to make some missteps of his own that could harm his campaign, it looks likely that he could nab the nomination simply because he has too many competitors keeping pace with each other as they try to unseat him.

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