2020 Vision Thursday: Elizabeth Warren joins Biden at the head of the pack

Andrew Romano
West Coast Correspondent

Welcome to 2020 Vision, the Yahoo News column covering the presidential race with one smart, fast takeaway every weekday and a deeper roundup every weekend. Reminder: There are 130 days until the Iowa caucuses and 404 days until the 2020 election.

While the political world was transfixed, understandably, by the building drama of an impeachment inquiry into President Trump, significant news was also being made on the campaign trail.

It looks like the Democratic primary contest has a new frontrunner. Or a co-frontrunner, to be exact.

In terms of polling, the story of the summer was how Elizabeth Warren started out in late April around 7 percent, still reeling from her stumble in handling questions about her claims to Native American ancestry, then slowly but surely gained support until she broke away from the pack and joined Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in the top tier. Look back at a graph of the national numbers over that period; Warren is the only major candidate whose line goes up, overall, rather than down.

But the last 72 hours have seen Warren breaking away from Sanders too — and even surpassing Biden where it matters most.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden. (Photos: Neibergall/AP, Bastiaan Slabbers/Reuters)

Start with the big picture. Three national polls have come out since Tuesday: QuinnipiacEmerson and the Economist. Two of them show Warren leading Biden for the first time, with 27 percent support to Biden’s 26 percent (the Economist) or 25 percent (Quinnipiac); in both polls, Sanders trails at 16. Meanwhile, the third poll (Emerson) shows Biden leading Warren by a mere 2 points — a huge shift from Emerson’s late August poll, which had Biden ahead of Warren by 16 points.

On average, Biden still leads nationally by more than 7 percentage points. But that is his smallest advantage to date, and it could shrink further if additional surveys confirm Warren’s momentum. As for Sanders, Warren’s average lead over the Vermont senator — 4.1 percentage points — is the largest it’s ever been.

Warren speaks at Washington Square Park in New York City on Sept. 16, 2019. (Photo: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

This pattern may be even more pronounced in the latest early-state polling — i.e., in the places where the Democratic nomination will actually be decided. Three Iowa polls, the first since the start of September, were in the field last week. All three, including the gold-standard Des Moines Register poll, found Warren either beating Biden (by as much as 8 points) or statistically tied for first. She is now ahead of Biden in the Iowa polling average for the first time; Sanders trails with roughly half Warren’s support.

The standings in New Hampshire are more muddled; Biden and Sanders have been trading the lead for much of the year. But the two newest polls, one by Monmouth University and one by Tel Opinion Research, show Warren zipping into first. Monmouth puts her at 27 percent to Biden’s 25 percent and Sanders’s 12 percent; Tel has her at 18 percent to Biden’s 15 percent and Sanders’s 8 percent.

Then there’s California to consider. As Super Tuesday’s biggest delegate prize, it could help seal the nomination for whoever wins there on March 3 — and Warren seems to be pulling away. In June, the respected Los Angeles Times/Berkeley poll showed Warren trailing Biden by 4 points; now it shows her leading him by 9.

Biden speaks in Des Moines, Iowa, on Sept. 21, 2019. (Photo: Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

In theory, if these results were to hold — if Warren were to win Iowa, then New Hampshire, then California — she would be on a glide path to the nomination. Of course, a lot can and will change between now and next February. Other candidates are likely to drop out, and their supporters are likely to scatter. Warren’s honeymoon — the positive coverage, the collegiality of her rivals — is already coming to an end, and Warren could stumble. And Biden could seize on impeachment as a chance to go mano a mano with Trump, and regain lost ground in the process.

It’s too early, in other words, to say Warren is on track to win the Democratic primary. But it’s not too early to say that she’s Biden’s new co-frontrunner.

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