BOSTON (CBS) – Who is the Democrat best situated to run for president in 2020?

There’s a ways to go until that will come into sharp focus. But there’s a fascinating clue in the research of Diane Hessan, a local business executive who’s been soliciting opinions from 500 voters nationwide via email since Donald Trump was elected.

She recently sent them a list of ten prominent Democrats who are widely believed to be seriously considering a run for president, and the response took her by surprise.

“A huge number of Democrats and even many moderate Republicans feel really positive about and are ready to vote today for one of all the candidates I sent them,” she says.

Was it Bernie Sanders, the insurgent star of the 2016 primaries? How about Elizabeth Warren, a darling of the Democratic left? Or maybe a younger pol, like California Senator Kamala Harris?

Try none of the above. It was none other than former Vice President Joe Biden who topped Hessan’s unscientific survey.

Biden passed on a run last time shortly after the death of his son Beau. But a lifetime of personal tragedy and a knack for modeling public empathy have apparently earned him considerable goodwill.

joe biden Survey: Joe Biden Best Democrat To Run For President In 2020

Vice President Joe Biden at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate on March 30, 2015 in Boston. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

“The emotion was most striking to me,” says Hessan. “I got about 400 responses, and about 47 people used the world ‘love’ [to refer to Biden]. They talk about how much they respect the man, [using] words like ‘compassionate.'”

What about conservatives and hardcore Trump fans? What are they saying about Biden?

“Here’s the language – I’d give him a shake, I’d watch the debate and see what I thought about him, I could live with him,” she reports.

Still, Biden will be 77 by 2020, by far the oldest president ever if elected. Isn’t that a problem?

“People wrote things like ‘my mind says that he’s 75 but my heart says when can I start knocking on doors for you Joe?'” says Hessan, who notes the demographic group least concerned with his age were the youngest voters.

Some of Biden’s appeal may simply be name recognition, although Sanders and Warren are also well-known. And there is a long way to go.

But Hessan’s findings are an early hint that to a wide spectrum of voters, character still matters.

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