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Why Populist Democrats Have Gained the Upper Hand in the Primary Race

Alexander Burns

Mr. Biden remains a...

Mr. Biden remains a clear favorite in just one of the early states, South Carolina, and his advisers have predicted that he would fare better in larger, more diverse states that vote later in the calendar. He is counting, in particular, on older and more moderate African-American voters to hold back the party from stampeding toward a more ideological liberal candidate. In 2016, black and Latino voters helped Hillary Clinton withstand a persistent primary challenge from Mr. Sanders.

Yet scattered polling in the later states has largely followed the national trend: Last week, for instance, the Public Policy Institute of California released a poll finding a statistical three-way tie in the nation’s most populous state between Mr. Biden, Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders.

Mark Baldassare, president of the institute, said there was no indication in his poll that the state’s diversity would represent a stumbling block for candidates on the left, as Mr. Biden is hoping. The primary debates would be crucial to determining Ms. Warren’s continued momentum, he said, because voters seemed to be using them for insight into the general election.

“It has become kind of a proxy for: How are these candidates going to do when they stand up next to Trump?” Mr. Baldassare said. “I think this will be Elizabeth Warren’s moment now, because if she is in the mix for front-runner, people are going to be testing her and seeing: How does she do? How does she do when she has to be on defense?”

Sources: Polling data from ABC News/The Washington Post, Reuters, Monmouth University, Quinnipiac University, Fox News, USA Today/Suffolk University of New Hampshire, CBS News/YouGov, CNN, The Des Moines Register, NBC News/The Wall Street Journal, Winthrop University. Numbers are through Oct. 10.

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