Now that we’re staring down the Iowa caucuses in February, it’s worthwhile to look at where this race started from a year ago in January of 2019. Back then, the unannounced candidacy of Joe Biden loomed over the field, and the polling, believe it not, looked a lot like it does right now. What then was the point of months and months of primaries, debates, and campaigning when the end result a year later in January of 2020 is that the same three candidates, Biden, Sanders, and Warren, continue to hold the top three spots?
Let’s roll back to January of 2019, where a Politico tracking poll offered a glimpse of the race before it really got started:
Politico/Morning Consult National Tracking Poll
January 4-6, 2019
27% – Joe Biden
16% – Bernie Sanders
4% – Elizabeth Warren
3% – Cory Booker
2% – Amy Klobuchar
1% – Mike Bloomberg
Biden was the leader back in January 2019 by 11 points. The prescient nature of the poll, which included Mike Bloomberg, shows us that not much has changed in the top three spots over the course of 12 months.
As of today, the current RealClearPolitics average of national polls is as follows:
29.7% – Joe Biden
20.2% – Bernie Sanders
14.2% – Elizabeth Warren
7.7% – Pete Buttigieg
5.8% – Mike Bloomberg
3.5% – Andrew Yang
3% – Amy Klobuchar
2.3% – Tulsi Gabbard
2.2% – Tom Steyer
2% – Cory Booker
Both Warren and Sanders have improved their positions nationally, with Bernie surging stronger as of late. Warren had held stronger numbers a few months back, but she has faltered since then. The main constant has been Joe Biden, now leading the field by 9.5% on average which is largely unchanged from the 11% number a year ago in January of 2019.
Mike Bloomberg is the other candidate on the list with a big improvement, which he basically captured over the month of December and continues to try and build on.
Obviously the unforeseen candidacies of Pete Buttigieg and Andrew Yang weren’t bringing in numbers a year ago, or even included in the poll, but they’ve plowed out a niche and have remained constant for the second half of 2019. Klobuchar and Booker remain about where they were nationally when the started.
All of this is to say that Joe Biden, for his faults and gaffes, hasn’t lost or gained much support over the course of 12 months. His numbers are basically solid nationally, voters know him, and they’ve made up their mind on him.
A story on NBC News yesterday pointed out the fact that Biden, aside from any other candidate, has taken the most attacks and probably committed the most gaffes, yet he remains the most steady:
The former vice president has been attacked more by rivals and President Donald Trump than any other candidate in the race, and he’s arguably made more unforced errors than any other Democrat, but his position in the polls has not budged: He was averaging 29 percent in polls the day before he entered the race, and he’s at 28 percent now.
“He’s had the kitchen sink thrown at him,” said former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat who considered running for president himself but has instead helped fundraise for Biden. “Voters have seen all this information that’s been thrown at him, and they’ve concluded that he is still the best person to beat Donald Trump.”
Biden hasn’t increased his support and is still relatively weak as a leading candidate. But he’s held steady atop a crowded field when other candidates who have climbed quickly have found it difficult to maintain momentum, and that might be enough for Biden to win.
He’s too old-fashioned, he’s too hawkish, he’s too gaffe-prone, he’s too out of touch, he’s got too much experience, it’s all been thrown at Biden. None of it, save for a brief few days after Kamala Harris tried to call him racist, stuck very long. Part of that is because Biden is a political force, the elder statesman among Democrats, the one name with perceived ability to beat Donald Trump. The other reason is that as Joe Biden walks himself into corners and gaffes, he then figures out how to charm his way back out again.
Many progressive groups to the left of Biden politically assumed he would have already burned out in a year of campaigning. He was just one gaffe away, many activists thought, from basically knocking himself out. Now, with days to go before votes are cast in Iowa, progressive groups are sounding the alarm, per Politico:
While Biden has taken flak from the Democratic Party’s left flank for the past year, the effort marks the first time he’s been the subject of a sustained barrage from the left, amplifying recent back-to-back broadsides from two of Biden’s top opponents, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, over Social Security and bankruptcy legislation.
The shared offensive comes on the heels of Biden’s best fundraising quarter — he pulled in nearly $23 million — since entering the presidential race in April. And it follows recent polling that shows he remains the frontrunner in national primary polls and a top-tier contender in first-in-the-nation Iowa, which holds its caucus Feb. 3.
Many activist groups and rival campaigns had expected Biden — whose campaign once faced questions about its durability — to have crumbled by now.
With Biden still the “default” choice, even for some left-leaning progressives, the rubber is now meeting the road and the gloves are coming off. The next debate, set for January 14, will be filled with sharpened arguments and attacks against Biden and his brand of Democratic Party politics.
Twelve months of primary campaigning in 2019 hasn’t done much to reset the field, but what happens in the next 20 days could be much more important. As Biden, Sanders, Warren and the others try to make a play for Iowa, then New Hampshire, the stakes become much, much higher.