- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden quickly consolidated his lead in polls in the Democratic presidential contest, as he and President Trump seem intent on skipping the primaries and declaring the 2020 race a two-man affair.

Within days of entering the race, Mr. Biden surged to the front of the crowded field with more than 35% support and a double-digit lead over his closest competitors, according to three polls released Tuesday.

The polling bounce confirmed a growing belief among Democratic voters that Mr. Biden is uniquely equipped to beat Mr. Trump in 2020.

Mr. Trump also took note of the Biden campaign launch. He fired back at Mr. Biden’s attacks on his moral character and his leadership after ignoring similar jabs from the other Democratic hopefuls.

“The middle class is booming now, despite what Joe Biden says,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters at the White House.

Taking on Mr. Biden’s claim that workers are hurting and disrespected in the Trump era, Mrs. Conway provided a preview of a possible general election debate with the former vice president.

“He also sounds like someone who wasn’t vice president for eight years. He’s got this whole list of grievances of what’s wrong with the country as if he didn’t work in this building for eight years. We inherited that mess,” she said.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly hit Mr. Biden since he entered the race, dubbing him “Sleepy Joe” and mocking him for holding his campaign kickoff in Pennsylvania.

In 2016, Mr. Trump put Pennsylvania in the Republican column for the first time since 1988, and he will need to keep it there to win a second term in 2020.

“He obviously doesn’t know that Pennsylvania is having one of the best economic years in its history, with lowest unemployment EVER, a now thriving Steel Industry (that was dead) & great future!” the president tweeted.

Right out of the gate, Mr. Biden has acted as if he were the inevitable nominee. He described his candidacy as a challenge to the racism and bigotry that he said defined the Trump presidency.

“Give eight years to this administration, in the White House, we’re going to forever and fundamentally change the character of the country,” he said Tuesday on the stump in Iowa. “We can’t afford four more years of this.”

Mr. Trump’s critics said the president’s rapid response revealed that he is afraid of facing Mr. Biden in 2020. That follows Mr. Biden’s argument that his popularity with labor unions makes him a threat to the blue-collar support Mr. Trump needs in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan to remain in the White House.

Republican strategist Chris Wilson said the counterpunching is classic Trump. While it reinforces Mr. Biden’s image as the Democrats’ standard-bearer, he said, it also softens him for a possible 2020 showdown.

“I don’t think engaging Biden at this point is a bad move. He is the Democratic front-runner, even if he’s not a prohibitive favorite,” Mr. Wilson said. “Giving him free shots unanswered would basically be letting him start running a general election campaign now and then joining in later — and giving your opponent months of unanswered messaging is never a good strategy.”

For Mr. Biden, there are obvious advantages to focusing on Mr. Trump and ignoring the other candidates for the Democratic nomination. He avoids clashing with rivals over a litany of thorny issues in his record from 36 years in the Senate and two terms in the White House, and the longer he monopolizes news coverage in the race, the more his claim to inevitability becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, the champion of the party’s far left who has vied as a front-runner, attempted to blunt Mr. Biden’s rise. He made several appearances on TV news shows in recent days to highlight Mr. Biden’s votes for the Iraq War, the North American Free Trade Agreement, trade deals with China and Wall Street deregulation — all votes frowned upon by liberals.

Mr. Biden is banking on Democratic primary voters being more concerned with electability than liberal orthodoxy.

Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said its survey shows that Mr. Biden has a winning message so far.

“The Democratic primary race suddenly gets real with a fast start by former Vice President Joe Biden and a very clear indication from voters that he is the only candidate who can send President Trump packing 18 months from now,” he said.

The Quinnipiac poll showed Mr. Biden with 38% of the vote, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts with 12% and Mr. Sanders with 11%. Mr. Biden was up 10 points from the same poll a month ago.

He led with 39% in a CNN poll, a 10-point jump from last month. He was trailed by Mr. Sanders with 15% and Ms. Warren with 8%.

A Morning Consult poll put Mr. Biden out front with 36%, Mr. Sanders in second with 22% and Ms. Warren a distant third with 9%.

Mr. Biden gained 6 points in the weekly Morning Consult survey.

Ms. Warren, like Mr. Sanders a far-left candidate, has gained traction in polls.

She advanced into second or third place after strong performances last week at two candidate forums and the rollout of a plan to erase up to $50,000 of student debt for most borrowers.

• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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