Teflon Joe? Biden brushes off attacks

One month into his presidential run, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenCDC chief clarifies vaccine comments: 'There will be no nationwide mandate' Overnight Defense: First group of Afghan evacuees arrives in Virginia | Biden signs Capitol security funding bill, reimbursing Guard | Pentagon raises health protection level weeks after lowering it Biden urges local governments to stave off evictions MORE is topping national polls while showing a Teflon-like quality to survive criticism lobbed against him. 

Biden has a 17-point edge in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls. While his lead has actually fallen a bit since it spiked after his entry into the race on April 25, it remains healthy and steady. 

He also leads in all of the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada and is clobbering rivals in South Carolina. 

It is very early in the presidential primary, meaning there is plenty of time for Biden to falter.

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But people closely following the race are expressing a mixture of surprise and respect at Biden’s first month in the race.

They say they believe Biden’s strength reflects the generally positive feelings many Democrats hold for him and former President Obama, along with the argument at the center of Biden’s campaign so far — that he is the Democrat with the best chance to defeat Trump. 

“I think this month has proven that it’s not just name recognition,” said one longtime Biden ally and friend. “People just like Joe Biden. And Democrats right now really want to beat President TrumpDonald TrumpMeghan McCain: Democrats 'should give a little credit' to Trump for COVID-19 vaccine Trump testing czar warns lockdowns may be on table if people don't get vaccinated Overnight Health Care: CDC details Massachusetts outbreak that sparked mask update | White House says national vaccine mandate 'not under consideration at this time' MORE, and he is uniquely qualified for this moment.” 

A ton of criticism and scrutiny preceded Biden’s entry to the race.

Strategists questioned whether he was liberal enough to win a Democratic primary given the party’s leftward tilt. They pointed to his past support for the Iraq War, a crime bill blamed for mass incarceration and banking legislation that helped financial interests in his home state. 

So far, the criticisms haven’t put a huge dent in the former vice president.

“Quite frankly, I’m surprised more of this stuff hasn’t gotten traction,” said Democratic strategist Jim Manley, who has known Biden since his time as a Senate aide. “And I’m surprised by how well he’s doing in general.” 

The former vice president has also been hit for overly familiar contact with women and for his handling of the Anita HillAnita Faye HillJoe Biden's surprising presidency Gloria Steinem: 'International Women's Day means we are still in trouble' 'Lucky': Kerry Washington got a last-minute switch in DNC lineup MORE and Clarence ThomasClarence ThomasAn obscure Supreme Court ruling is a cautionary tale of federal power Overnight Health Care: St. Louis reimposes mask mandate | Florida asks Supreme Court to block CDC's limits on cruise ship industry Florida asks Supreme Court to block CDC's limits on cruise ship industry MORE hearings. But it doesn’t seem to be hurting him. 

One strategist who worked on the Obama campaign but is currently unaffiliated with any of the presidential campaigns said the controversy lowered expectations for the success of the campaign. 

“Those seeking to keep him out of the race made him stronger by painting him as a hapless sexual predator who wouldn’t be able to raise money,” the strategist said. “So when he came out on stage and didn’t put his foot in his mouth in the first 30 seconds, didn’t grope someone on day one ... he not only cleared the extraordinarily low bar set for him but now looks like a juggernaut.”

Manley and other Democrats say Biden’s success reflects a cocktail of reasons, primarily the current chaos in the Trump administration and his time as Obama’s vice president. 

“With all due respect to the vice president, a lot of people saw him at Obama’s side for eight years, and he’s got a reservoir of support because of that,” Manley said.  

Biden is also probably helped by the large field he’s running in, which has divided supporters of other Democrats into a number of camps. It is a point Biden would highlight on calls with donors and other potential supporters of the campaign: With such a crowded field, no one would get to 50 percent. 

This week, a Morning Consult poll showed that Biden is the second choice of every opponent’s supporters with the exception of Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenCalifornia Democrats warn of low turnout in recall election Pelosi disputes Biden's power to forgive student loans Warren hits the airwaves for Newsom ahead of recall election MORE (D-Mass.).

The survey was an important metric for the Biden campaign and its allies.

“You talk to many operatives and activists who may be supporting other candidates, and they still have positive feelings about the vice president,” said David Wade, a Democratic strategist who served as a spokesman to Biden after he was selected to be Obama’s running mate.

Wade said structurally the Iowa caucus system in particular rewards candidates who are strong second choices because in a crowded field with two dozen candidates, “a whole crop of candidates won’t make it past the first cut and their supporters will find somewhere else to go.” 

Wade, who also served as a senior aide to former Democratic nominee John KerryJohn KerryHow the US could help Australia develop climate action Equilibrium/ Sustainability — Presented by NextEra Energy — Clean power repurposes dirty power No. 2 State Department official to travel to China amid tensions MORE in 2004, said the process “helped propel both Kerry and John Edwards out of Iowa.” 

“But more than any single state, in a race where even the most hardcore activists are laser-focused on defeating Donald Trump, being broadly acceptable to all the different lanes that make up the progressive superhighway really matters,” Wade added. “It doesn’t mean there won’t be tough stretches. Every campaign will have its ups and downs, but it means you’re going to be durable and resilient.”

Biden aides and allies acknowledge their candidate is happy with his front-runner status.

“I think we’re all a little surprised by how well he’s done, but it confirms to us that what we knew all along was true. He is the best candidate,” one ally acknowledged. 

But they know treacherous roads lie ahead.

In the coming weeks, Biden plans to take some time to prepare for the first debate in order to help combat any fire he may take on stage from opponents seeking to poke holes in his record. 

Rivals have sought to poke at Biden’s electability edge.

Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegChasten Buttigieg: DC 'almost unaffordable' JD Vance takes aim at culture wars, childless politicians Poll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary MORE, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., this week said you “earn the nomination by winning it.”

“Nobody’s earned the nomination in 2019,” Buttigieg told The Washington Post. 

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - CDC equates Delta to chickenpox in contagiousness Harris's bad polls trigger Democratic worries Why in the world are White House reporters being told to mask up again? MORE (D-Calif.) also sought to pour water on the electability argument. 

“I think that Joe Biden would be a great running mate,” Harris told reporters during a stop in New Hampshire earlier this month. “As vice president, he’s proven that he knows how to do the job.”  

Biden allies say such criticisms are a sign of what’s to come. But they don’t sound worried. 

“You have a man in the Oval Office who is horrible for our country, and people want him out, and they think Biden is the one to do that,” one ally said.

“As far as the criticism goes, they’re just not buying it,” the ally said of the attacks on Biden.