In the opening weeks of the 2020 primary campaign, it looked like Bernie Sanders might establish himself as the only viable standard-bearer for the Democratic left. Within 24 hours of announcing his candidacy, the Vermont senator had raised nearly $6 million. It would take Elizabeth Warren an entire quarter to raise that much cash; by the time she did, her finance director had already quit in frustration.
Meanwhile, Sanders maintained a commanding lead over Warren in national primary polls and in surveys of early states. In hypothetical general-election head-to-heads, Sanders performed far better against Trump than the Massachusetts senator. Such surveys have little predictive value this far out, but they contributed to Warren’s apparent “electability” problem — a significant segment of Democratic voters seemed to admire the senator, but regard her as a poor match for Donald Trump (what with the DNA test and all).
Nevertheless, Warren persisted. And while she still lacked the funds to match her most well-heeled competitors in paid messaging, her ostensibly endless supply of inventive policy ideas garnered her campaign a steady stream of earned media — including plaudits from a Fox News host. In recent days, polls have started to show her closing in Sanders. And on Wednesday, for the first time ever, a national poll found Warren with a statistically significant lead over the Vermont senator, as did a new survey of Democrats in Nevada.
These are just two polls. In RealClearPolitics’ running average, Sanders still boasts a seven-point lead over Warren. And America’s favorite democratic socialist has retained a massive fundraising advantage. It’s possible that Warren’s ostensible surge will prove fleeting.
But Warren has been holding her own in recent head-to-head polls with Trump. That, combined with the considerable praise that her “economic patriotism” plan earned from right-wing commentators, might be easing some anxious Democrats’ concerns about her general-election viability. Meanwhile, there’s reason to think that while Sanders has a higher floor of support than Warren, he also has a lower ceiling. In YouGov’s poll, some 21 percent of Democratic respondents said they would be “disappointed” if Sanders won the nomination — only Bill de Blasio attracted that high a level of disapproval. Similarly, a poll commissioned by the progressive think tank Data for Progress last month found 28 percent of Democratic voters were “not considering” voting for Sanders; by contrast, only 13 percent said they weren’t giving Warren consideration.
For now, Sanders remains Joe Biden’s leading adversary. But the notion that Warren might be forced to duck out of the race in its early stages and give Sanders sole ownership of the left “lane,” looks much less plausible now than it did two months ago.