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 WarrenPelosi disputes Biden's power to forgive student loans Warren hits the airwaves for Newsom ahead of recall election Human rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action MORE (D-Mass.) ahead of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFirst lady leaves Walter Reed after foot procedure Biden backs effort to include immigration in budget package MyPillow CEO to pull ads from Fox News 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 SandersDemocrats say they have the votes to advance .5T budget measure Millennial momentum means trouble for the GOP Briahna Joy Gray: White House thinks extending student loan pause is a 'bad look' 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.