Joe Biden faces an uncertain path

Joe Biden faces an uncertain path
© Getty Images

New polling nationally and in early voting states shows the race for the Democratic nomination for president tightening, and possibly even fundamentally changing. Despite the substantive lead that former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE has held in the polls since launching his campaign earlier this year and his above average performance in the second debate, the momentum of his campaign has been gradually slowing down.

On the other hand, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest Pelosi wants to change law to allow a sitting president to be indicted MORE has seen her polling numbers surge in the last couple of weeks, and it is clear that she is slowly displacing Senator Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest Krystal Ball tears into 'Never Trump' Republicans 2020 Democrats defend climate priorities in MSNBC forum MORE as the leading candidate of the progressive movement.A recent Monmouth University poll conducted among likely Iowa caucus goers speaks volumes to this trend. While Biden still leads the field with 28 percent support, this is nearly identical to his 27 percent support back in April, when he had not yet even declared his candidacy for president. However, the same poll shows Warren in second place, now at 19 percent support, up from 7 percent support in April.

Warren has now become the progressive candidate to beat among the Democrats, and her gains have resulted in losses for her progressive contenders, namely Sanders and Senator Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisTrump reignites court fight with Ninth Circuit pick MSNBC Climate Change Forum draws 1.3M viewers in 8 pm timeslot Iowa Steak Fry to draw record crowds for Democrats MORE. While Biden still leads in polling nationally, it is clear that the energy in the party is not with him, and it is highly unlikely that he will be able to break above his polling position in the high 20s or low 30s. While Warren rises in the polls and the enthusiasm surrounding her campaign are certainly substantive, she still faces persistent doubts, even among her supporters, about whether she would be able to beat President TrumpDonald John TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE in the general election.

ADVERTISEMENT

While her primary campaign has generated excitement, there are legitimate concerns about how her rigid progressivism would fare in swing states, such as Michigan and Pennsylvania, that the Democratic candidate needs to secure to win the presidency. Even after Warren won the second debate decisively, a Quinnipiac University poll revealed that she still fell far behind Biden on the question of who has the best chance to beat Trump, as 49 percent of respondents said Biden is the best candidate to beat Trump, compared to 9 percent who said Warren is.

While it is clear that electability is important to Democrats, the majority of whom would say the most important thing is beating Trump in the 2020 election, the energy in the party has moved largely to the progressive wing, which indeed spells bad news for Biden, especially in early voting states. In fact, in a poll conducted last week by Change Research Iowa, Biden actually lags behind Warren among likely Iowa caucus goers, garnering 17 percent of the vote, compared to 28 percent for Warren.

Polling indicates that Biden very well may lose not just in Iowa, but also in the following early primary states of New Hampshire and Nevada, where Warren has also made gains. While not a guarantee, Warren will likely be the favorite in Massachusetts, which she represents in the Senate.

Ultimately, the Biden campaign has not just leveled off, but he is also experiencing a precipitous decline both nationally and in early voting states. His focus would be best directed at early voting states such as South Carolina, where Biden has an opportunity to establish himself with the large African American presence in the primary electorate. A win in South Carolina would demonstrate his strength as a candidate, in comparison to either slim victories or even losses in the prior states.

Simply put, Biden faces a far from certain path to the nomination, and this is growing more uncertain by the day. In the months to come, the battle between the progressive idealists, led by Warren, and the moderate pragmatists, led by Biden, will truly take shape as the voters decide which vision for the Democratic Party will be up against Trump in 2020.

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.”