CNN poll: Biden leads Dem presidential field by 20 points, Avenatti at one percent

Biden’s the challenger who most worries Trump, for good reason. He’s universally known, has a common touch (in every sense of the word), and might be more formidable in the Rust Belt per his Scranton pedigree than, say, Elizabeth Warren is. He’s also 75, but even that’s not much of a liability in context: The guy running a distant second behind him is 77.

Eh, it’s early-early polling, a pure product of name recognition, right? Biden’s a household name by dint of his eight years as VP and Bernie’s well-known to Democratic voters from his primary run two years ago. We can safely disregard this survey as merely a test of lefties picking out the person they know best. Can’t we?

Right, Hillary led the whole way and Trump stood atop the GOP polls from practically the moment he entered the race in 2015. You wouldn’t call 33 percent a stranglehold on the field, but when there’s likely to be 15 or more candidates, starting out with a third of the primary electorate isn’t a bad place to be.

How solid is that 33 percent, though? Some Democrats wonder:

Kilgore put his finger on perhaps the biggest pieces of Biden baggage going into 2020.

In the wake of #MeToo and the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, he’d face an energized female electorate that would perhaps not look kindly on his tenure during the Hill hearings. Older women might remember that he refused to seat a panel of sexual-harassment experts, and that he allowed Clarence Thomas to speak twice, before and after Hill’s testimony. Younger women might not know the full history, but Biden’s female competitors would be likely to fill in the gaps. And John Zogby, a veteran pollster who believes that Biden would be a strong candidate, nevertheless concedes that, given current cultural attitudes, Biden “likes to rub women’s shoulders a bit uncomfortably.”

The Thomas hearing was nearly 30 years ago. Millions upon millions of younger Democratic voters have no idea of what happened there or what Biden’s role was, but they will before this is over.

To my mind the biggest news from this data despite Biden’s lead is the relatively strong showing by Kamala Harris at nine percent, a point better than Elizabeth Warren. Maybe that won’t last, as if Bernie concludes he’s too old for another run, one would think Warren is likely to pick up the lion’s share of his voters. For the moment, though, Harris looks promising. She’s on the cusp of double digits despite being a newbie senator and actually runs second at 19 percent among Democrats who call themselves “liberal,” per CNN (Biden is less than 10 points ahead of her). I’d be curious to know how much of her support right now is coming from Californians, as she hasn’t had much exposure to the national electorate apart from the Kavanaugh hearings; it doesn’t hurt when running for president to be a senator from the country’s most populous state, particularly when that state is utterly dominated by your party. Purely as a matter of demographic representation, though, Harris makes more sense as Democratic nominee than any of her opponents: In a party increasingly reliant on support from women and nonwhite voters, she’s the only major candidate who shares those traits. A Trump/Harris match-up in 2020 would be identity-politics armageddon on both sides.

As for Creepy Porn Presidential Candidate, I confess to initially having been surprised at Avenatti’s near-asterisk showing of one percent. He’s the only guy who’s spent the last few months aggressively pseudo-campaigning and he’s a mainstay on TV. Shouldn’t that add up to more than one percent? Some of you are reading that and thinking, maybe he was polling higher and his support collapsed after the Julie Swetnick stunt backfired on Democrats. Eh, that smells like wishcasting to me. It’d be fantastic if Avenatti’s political aspirations were undone by his own ratf***ing ruthlesssness, 200-proof schadenfreude for right-wingers, but I think there’s a better explanation for his low polling. The reality is foreign to us since we’re news junkies who consume lots of political media but we should never forget that … practically no one in America watches cable news. Even the biggest primetime shows draw roughly one percent of the total population in viewership. (Plus, the sort of person who watches him regularly on MSNBC is probably sufficiently interested in liberal politics that they already have other ideological favorites in the crop of Democratic candidates.) This is where the Trump/Avenatti comparisons ultimately break down. Trump had been a household-name celebrity for decades by the time he ran in 2015. Meanwhile, probably 90 percent of the public couldn’t pick Avenatti out of a lineup. That matters.

One other note: A four-percent showing for Beto! isn’t half-bad here. Until his all-but-certainly doomed run for Senate in Texas, he was a no-name Democratic backbencher in the House. Now he’s a campaign fundraising juggernaut, a liberal and media darling, and easily the “breakout star” (to borrow a TV term for our TV-centric politics) of the 2018 cycle. Already he has four times the support of Kirsten “Who?” Gillibrand, who’s definitely running next year. Normally a failed Senate run does not a presidential nominee make, particularly if that failure ends up being by double digits. But (a) political rules in the age of Trump aren’t what they were, (b) Beto fans will happily remind you that other pols (Lincoln, Nixon) have overcome major statewide losses to win the White House, and (c) the fact that O’Rourke ran in Texas as a loud-and-proud liberal in a deep-red state will make it easier for them to spin away his loss. “He stuck to his principles! Obama got crushed in Texas too! Losing down south doesn’t mean you can’t win nationally!” Not only is O’Rourke is the strongest dark horse in the field, I’m not even sure he counts as a dark horse anymore by dint of his fundraising. Ted Cruz has taken to accusing him of running for president, not senator from Texas, in crafting his message to please liberal donors, which is a smart attack on his opponent but also likely true. If you were to tell O’Rourke that America doesn’t elect congressmen to the presidency, I bet his thought would be, “Until two years ago it didn’t elect reality-show hosts to the presidency either.” If I were Biden or Warren or Harris, I’d worry about Beto. Especially given all the love letters he’s gotten and continues to get from the media.

Exit question via Rebecca Berg: We can trust early polling, can’t we?

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Duane Patterson 2:01 PM on June 05, 2023