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Why Warren is taking the lead

Why Warren is taking the lead
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There are reasons why a new Quinnipiac University poll of Democratic voters and Democratic-leaning independents puts Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenPorter loses seat on House panel overseeing financial sector OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Nine, including former Michigan governor, charged over Flint water crisis | Regulator finalizes rule forcing banks to serve oil, gun companies | Trump admin adds hurdle to increase efficiency standards for furnaces, water heaters DeVos mulled unilateral student loan forgiveness as COVID-19 wracked economy: memo MORE (D-Mass.) ahead of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenAzar in departure letter says Capitol riot threatens to 'tarnish' administration's accomplishments House Democrats introduce measures to oppose Trump's bomb sale to Saudis On The Money: Retail sales drop in latest sign of weakening economy | Fast-food workers strike for minimum wage | US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits MORE in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The poll has Warren at 27 percent and Biden at 25 percent, though that’s within the margin of error. Last August, the same poll had Biden at 32 percent and Warren at 19 percent.

It appears most of Warren’s new support came from Biden. Warren rose 8 percentage points while Biden dropped 7 percentage points.

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Yet, most of the other candidates’ support remained roughly the same. Sen. Bernie SandersBernie Sanders'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate Biden to seek minimum wage in COVID-19 proposal Former Sanders spokesperson: Progressives 'shouldn't lose sight' of struggling Americans during pandemic MORE (I-Vt.) polled 16 percent; the others were in the low single digits.

Why are Warren’s numbers improving — at least for now — including in the important primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire?

First, Warren has been one of the best prepared, most engaged and on-message candidates of the bunch. That’s quite a contrast to her rambling and contrived live-streamed announcement from her kitchen that she would be entering the race.

When someone asks her a question about a difficult policy issue, her standard response is “I have a plan for that.” She says it so often it’s become a bit of a caricature — but one that people listening to her seem to appreciate.

Second, she seems approachable. Politicians can often seem aloof, especially off camera. But recent news stories report that Warren will hang around after a speech as long as it takes so that everyone who wants a selfie with her can take one.

Third, and more importantly, she has the socialist policies without a socialist identification.

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The Democratic Party has been moving left — far left. Democrats are increasingly embracing socialist policies — characterized by major government involvement in the economy, huge tax increases and massive wealth redistribution — even though some don’t necessarily like the name.

Self-identifying as a socialist, as Sanders does, is likely to scare off some potential supporters. If Democrats want the policies without the historical baggage — not to mention a record of economic failure and oppression — Warren’s their candidate.

Finally, Warren can identify as a historically excluded minority.

Democrats put the first African-American in the White House, and they thought they were going to put the first female in the White House. 

In an age of identity politics, Democrats would prefer to rally around someone — a woman, minority, or someone from the LGBT community — who has historically been excluded from the presidency.

Warren’s claim to be of Native American descent may no longer be credible, but being a woman checks that box. 

But can Warren grow the slight lead she seems to be taking? Yes, if Sanders’ supporters become a “feeder team” for her.

For voters who want socialist policies but conclude Sanders cannot win the nomination — he’s not even a Democrat, after all — Warren is the next best option. Their combined support in the Quinnipiac poll is 43 percent, well above any other Democratic candidate.

Campaign donations generally follow those with the most support. Only Sanders leads Warren in donations, according to OpenSecrets.org.

The Iowa caucus is only three months away. Plus, with several states, including California, moving their primaries to March, the primary process will be over in five months.

Yes, there is still time for another Democrat to rise to the top, or for Biden to regain his mojo — but not much time. Once voters see an apparent winner emerging, they often join the pack.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.