Milestone: Warren now leads Biden in RCP poll average

They’re basically tied, with Warren ahead by a mere two-tenths of a point, but (a) this is the first time Biden has trailed all year in the poll of polls and (b) it’s reeeeally hard to see how the trendlines here reverse. Biden’s probably already been damaged by the questions about Ukraine and Burisma, and Warren’s chief competition for the progressive vote, Bernie Sanders, seems likely to fade given the health concerns about him and his newly scaled-back campaign. In fact, Bernie’s health trouble may be a double whammy for Biden, not only freeing up lefties to unite behind Warren but raising new doubts about whether a man of Grandpa Joe’s age might face a health scare of his own later in the campaign.

Combine all that with the facts that Warren does better with white voters and the first two primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire are almost uniformly white and she’s starting to look like a solid frontrunner, whatever the polling numbers at this particular moment happen to say.

She’s led in four of the last five national polls tracked by RCP and the one in which she trailed, Morning Consult, comes with an asterisk: For whatever reason, their data has shown Biden ahead by double digits consistently for weeks even as the entire rest of the polling field has shifted towards Warren. That is, even Biden’s one good poll (showing him at 33 percent) is highly likely to be an outlier. Most of them have him in the mid-20s. Case in point, the new one from Quinnipiac:

Note how competitive Warren is among all Democratic demographics, up to and including Biden’s base of black voters and whites without a college degree. He still has a double-digit lead among black Democrats, but if you were to combine Bernie’s share of that vote with Warren’s it’d be a dead heat. Again, Bernie is the X factor: If you believe (as I do) that Warren rather than Biden will inherit the majority of his voters if he drops out or loses altitude then what we’re looking at in these numbers is likely a floor for Warren, not a ceiling. Her lead is apt to increase as Sanders is marginalized.

YouGov is out with its own numbers today and the toplines turn out to be nearly identical to Quinnipiac’s:

Monmouth also had the race 28/25 for Warren in a poll conducted during the last week of September. Biden’s remaining hope is to seize on surveys that show him performing best against Trump in head-to-head match-ups and use it to hammer his electability pitch. For instance, Fox News found him leading Trump 48/39 this past week in Wisconsin(!) compared to a 45/41 lead for Warren in the same state. (Trump’s job approval there is just 44/54.) Biden also does better against Trump in Quinnipiac’s national poll, leading POTUS 51/40 compares to Warren’s 49/41 advantage. But there’s a caveat: Biden’s 11-point lead over Trump in Quinnipiac is his smallest margin so far this year, down five points from the 16-point lead he enjoyed in August. Even his electability edge may be fraying.

But it gets worse:

[Biden’s] latest fundraising round was more than $9 million behind his closest rival in the polls — Elizabeth Warren. His total also ran well behind Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders.

That’s a problem for a candidate who is seeking to compete in all four early states and also build out his campaign infrastructure in the 14 states that will vote on Super Tuesday…

“The former vice president, with all the high-dollar contacts around the country — you do all the big fundraisers in the big cities. Once you do that, that’s it. If you don’t have that perpetual, low-dollar fundraising machine, you can’t compete,” [David] Kochel said, noting the massive figures reported by Biden’s top rivals. “Biden looks like he can’t compete with Warren, Bernie and Buttigieg. How’s he going to compete with Trump?”

If Warren inherits most of Bernie’s support — electoral and presumably financial — if and when he quits, or fades from, the race, how does Biden keep pace?

An amazing detail about Warren’s quarterly fundraising haul is that she’s done it without holding the sort of fundraisers for wealthy donors that Biden, among others, routinely conducts. In fact, news is breaking today that she’s done so well with her small-donor operation that she intends to extend it to the general election too:

From the day Ms. Warren announced her plan to skip traditional fund-raisers in February, she had said the pledge only applied to the primary. “I do not believe in unilateral disarmament,” she said then on MSNBC.

But she told CBS News in an interview posted on Tuesday evening that, even as President Trump has set fund-raising records, she would not change how her campaign raises money if she won the Democratic nomination.

“No, I will not be forced to make changes in how I raise money,” Ms Warren said. “Look, for me this is pretty straightforward. Either you think democracy works and electing a president is all about going behind closed doors with bazillionaires and corporate executives and lobbyists and scooping up as much money as possible. Or you think it’s about a grass-roots, let’s build this from the ground up.”

Democrats will pressure her to rethink this if she’s the nominee, knowing what an enormous fundraising advantage Trump is building for himself, but there’s strategy to Warren’s position. She watched Trump himself defeat a better-funded candidate three years ago by campaigning as a populist. She won’t get as much free media as he got in 2016 but she’ll get plenty, and it’ll be almost uniformly glowing. The press has its usual strong anti-Trump and anti-GOP incentives to side with the Democratic candidate, but on top of that they have a “first woman president” narrative to push and a kinship with a candidate who is, after all, a well-educated Ivy League liberal academic. More than anything, though, Warren wants to draw a contrast with Trump’s practice of attending lots of fatcat fundraisers for his own campaign. You can see her message coming from a mile awhile: The so-called “populist” president turns out to have been a swamp creature all along and now spends his days happily splashing around in special-interest money. I’m the real populist and to prove it I won’t hold a single fundraiser. Will that work in the midwest?

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