Joe Biden needs to watch out for Elizabeth Warren as she picks up

Joe Biden needs to watch out for Elizabeth Warren as she picks up
© Greg Nash

Just more than a week after the second round of Democratic primary debates, new national polls show the race tightening. Although Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor Poll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona Giuliani says he discussed Biden with Ukrainian official MORE has maintained his frontrunner status, Senator Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenKrystal Ball: Elites have chosen Warren as The One; Lauren Claffey: Is AOC wrong about the Electoral College? Poll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona McConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster MORE has gained significant ground following her decisive victories in both the first and second Democratic primary debates.

Indeed, a Quinnipiac poll now has Warren surging to second place in the race, garnering 21 percent of the vote, up more than 6 points since before the second debate. While the same poll still has Biden leading the pack with 32 percent of the vote, it is significant that Warren has cut into the share of support for Senator Bernie SandersBernie Sanders2020 candidates have the chance to embrace smarter education policies Bernie Sanders Adviser talks criminal justice reform proposal, 'Medicare for All' plan Poll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona MORE and Senator Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisPoll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona Rising Warren faces uphill climb with black voters Inslee drops out of 2020 presidential race MORE, who trail Warren by 7 points and 14 points. While Biden still leads in Iowa, Warren has made notable gains out in this early caucus state as well. A Monmouth poll has Biden leading with 28 percent of the vote, though Warren is not far with 19 percent, ahead of both Sanders and Harris.

What are the implications of these trends? Ultimately, it is clear that, given the faltering appearances of Biden in the last two debates, he is at the very least frozen in the bottom thirties in terms of vote share. While he does remain the frontrunner, his lead has narrowed, and the excitement around his campaign has plateaued. The current momentum in the race is with Warren, which comes largely, but not totally, at the expense of her fellow top tier progressive. After watching Warren and Sanders share the stage during the second round of debates, it became clear that Warren is slowly displacing Sanders as the face of the progressive movement.

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Anecdotally, we also know that Warren is building a very robust ground operation in caucus states like Iowa and Nevada, which will undeniably give her an advantage as the race narrows. Prior history also tells us that candidates on the left tend to overperform in their polling numbers. Given that the energy is with the left wing of the party, we can say with near certainty that this will be the case with Warren. While there have been discussions within the party on her potential problem with “electability,” none of that suggests that there will be a widespread movement to not support Warren, notwithstanding the prior poll evidence which shows that Democratic voters would like to nominate the most electable candidate.

As we enter the thick of the primary season, Biden should understand that his campaign is slowly flagging and, perhaps at best, has leveled off since he announced his run, or has likely trended down. Although he remains the Democratic frontrunner, his path to the party nomination is far from certain. In terms of his tough progressive competitors, Warren is clearly the favorite, Sanders is slowly waning from the head of the progressive pack, and Harris has slipped from her bump following the first debate.

These recent trends also point to Warren being a possible favorite in Iowa, and likely in Massachusetts, which she represents in the Senate, giving her a significant early voting advantage. With that, South Carolina will be critical for Biden to capture because, if he wins very narrow victories in Iowa or New Hampshire, or even loses to Warren in these states, he will need to show strength in an early voting state prior to Super Tuesday. Given the large African American presence in South Carolina, Biden will necessarily have to win there if he is to remain the clear frontrunner.

Put simply, while the Democratic presidential primary race is certainly far from over, the most recent trends suggest that we can expect Biden and Warren to go head to head in the final battle for the party nomination.

Douglas E. Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) served as a pollster for President Clinton. He is a political consultant, Fox News contributor, and the author of “Collapse: A World in Crisis and the Urgency of American Leadership.”