VOA News/Jim Malone

FILE - Biden for President campaign buttons are for sale beside "Impeach Trump Now!" buttons as U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden meets union workers at the Teamsters Local 249 hall  in Pittsburgh, Pa., April 29, 2019.

WASHINGTON – Joe Biden is holding on, Elizabeth Warren is surging, and President Donald Trump is fuming about recent polls and a Democratic presidential field he says is to the extreme left. It is all part of the latest ups and downs of the 2020 presidential campaign.

Former Vice President Biden remains atop the field of nearly two dozen Democratic contenders. A Quinnipiac University poll this week had Biden at 30% among Democratic voters followed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders at 19% and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren at 15%.

Trailing behind were South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 8%, California Senator Kamala Harris at 7 % and former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke at 3%. The rest of the Democratic field was at 1% or lower.

Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden takes photos with supporters at an event at Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, June 11, 2019.
Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden takes photos with supporters at an event at Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, June 11, 2019.

Targeting Trump

During campaign stops in Iowa this week, Biden continued his focus on President Trump as the central issue in next year’s election.

“This is a guy who does everything to separate and frighten people. It is about fear and loathing,” Biden told supporters at a campaign stop in Ottumwa. “When he calls people the names he calls them, no president has done something like that, for God’s sake. I mean it is bizarre and it is damaging.”

Biden is apparently on the president’s mind as well as Trump considers possible Democratic challengers for next year.

“Joe never got more than 1% except that Obama took him off the trash heap,” Trump told reporters outside the White House on Monday. “But now it looks like he is failing. It looks like his friends from the left are going to overtake him pretty soon. But his whole campaign is to hit Trump.”

This week’s Quinnipiac poll showed Biden easily defeating Trump in a 2020 matchup by a margin of 53 to 40%. Sanders, Harris, Warren, Buttigieg and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker also came out ahead against the president in head-to-head matchups.

FILE - Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is gay and married to a man, arrives to the Capital Pride LGBTQ celebration at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa, June 8, 2019.
FILE – Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is gay and married to a man, arrives to the Capital Pride LGBTQ celebration at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa, June 8, 2019.

Central issue

Trump has emerged as the central issue in the Democratic primary battle so far, and for the moment that appears to be benefiting Biden, said University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato.

“A large majority tell pollsters they want, above all, someone who will beat Trump,” Sabato told VOA via Skype. “They are willing to take a nominee with whom they disagree on a wide variety of issues because they will agree with that candidate more than they will agree with Trump.”

FILE - Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren makes one of a series of local visits in Fairfield, Iowa, May 26, 2019.
FILE – Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren makes one of a series of local visits in Fairfield, Iowa, May 26, 2019.

Recent polls paint a picture of a shifting Democratic presidential field. Among those on the rise is Warren with a focus on policy specifics and passion.

She recently rallied supporters in Oakland, California, with an appeal for new gun control measures. 

“On the question of gun violence, I will be fearless. We will fight side by side and we will protect our children!” she said.

Also gaining in the polls, especially in the early-voting state of Iowa, is Buttigieg, who offers himself as a younger alternative to Biden, Sanders and Warren.

“New thinking, bold action and a focus on the future. I am running for president because of the seriousness of the moment that we are living in,” Buttigieg said during a recent speech at a candidate’s forum in California.

Trump: Dems extreme

For his part, President Trump was quick to dismiss recent reports that his internal campaign polls show him in trouble against Biden in a number of states Trump won in 2016.

Trump has also lashed out at Biden personally, calling him “tired” and “sleepy,” and labels the entire Democratic field as too politically extreme.

“Every day the Democrat Party is becoming more and more unhinged and more and more extreme. They are going crazy. Do you love it? I sort of love it, right,” Trump told a Republican dinner in Iowa this week.

Trump’s constant bashing of the Democratic field as too extreme is an important part of his strategy for 2020, according to Sabato.

“The Republicans and Trump want to make the Democrats overconfident. If they are overconfident, they are more likely to nominate a candidate who is well to the left, pleasing the Democratic activists but nearly guaranteeing a defeat in November of 2020. So that is the hidden agenda behind what you are hearing from the Trump camp.”

Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders walks with supporters as he campaigns at the Capital Pride LGBTQ gay pride celebration at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa, June 8, 2019.
Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders walks with supporters as he campaigns at the Capital Pride LGBTQ gay pride celebration at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa, June 8, 2019.

Sanders battling

Bernie Sanders has long called himself a Democratic socialist and it did not hurt him in his 2016 challenge to Hillary Clinton. Sanders defended his philosophy in a speech in Washington this week as a boon to working families with an emphasis on government involvement in the economy and health care.

But Warren’s recent surge in the polls, both nationally and in some key states, appears to be coming at Sanders’ expense. A new University of California Berkeley-Los Angeles Times poll shows Warren moving into second place in California behind Biden. The former vice president leads in the state with 22%, followed by Warren at 18% and Sanders at 17%. Home state favorite Harris has dropped to 13%, down from 17% in the previous poll.

Warren has also moved into second place in a new poll out of Nevada this week. Biden leads there with 36% support, followed by Warren at 19% and Sanders at 13%.

The 2020 race moves into a new phase later this month with the first official Democratic debates over a two-night period in Miami, Florida, featuring 20 presidential contenders.

Sabato said that will give some lesser-known contenders their best chance to break out from the pack and make a bid for the top tier in the Democratic field, which is currently dominated by Biden, Warren, Sanders, Harris and Buttigieg.