Teflon Joe? Biden brushes off attacks

One month into his presidential run, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden compares Trump to George Wallace Sanders unveils plan to guarantee the 'right to a secure retirement' CNN Democratic debate drawing finishes third in cable news ratings race 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 John TrumpUS-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Trump talks to Swedish leader about rapper A$AP Rocky, offers to vouch for his bail Matt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' 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 HillAnita Hill: I could see myself voting for Biden over Trump Bill Maher: Buttigieg a 'little too young' to be president What I saw at the last impeachment: Rules are for little people MORE and Clarence ThomasClarence ThomasLiberal, conservative Supreme Court justices unite in praising Stevens Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — Harris walks back support for eliminating private insurance | Missouri abortion clinic to remain open through August | Georgia sued over 'heartbeat' abortion law Supreme Court rejects bid to restore Alabama abortion law 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 Ann WarrenJulián Castro is behind in the polls, but he's finding a niche Gabbard arrives in Puerto Rico to 'show support' amid street protests Democratic strategist predicts most 2020 candidates will drop out in late fall 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 Forbes KerryJohn Kerry: Pressley's story 'more American than any mantle this president could ever claim' Schumer to donate Epstein campaign contributions to groups fighting sexual violence Trump threatens Iran with increased sanctions after country exceeds uranium enrichment cap 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 ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegDemocratic strategist predicts most 2020 candidates will drop out in late fall The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over 'send her back' coverage The Hill's Campaign Report: Second debate lineups set up high-profile clash 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 Devi HarrisWhat to expect when Mueller testifies: Not much Biden compares Trump to George Wallace CNN Democratic debate drawing finishes third in cable news ratings race 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.