By Jon Keller


BOSTON (CBS) — It may come as a surprise to those who’ve raised an eyebrow over former Vice President Joe Biden’s halting debate performances and lackluster campaigning. But a new CNN poll shows Biden’s lead in the Democratic presidential nomination race is growing.

Biden is now at 29 percent, up from 22 percent in June.

Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are at 15 and 14 percent respectively. And Senator Kamala Harris has dropped sharply, down from 17 percent in June after a strong debate showing to just five percent now.

But it’s Biden’s enduring frontrunner status that is the headline of this latest poll, an endorsement of the strategy he lays out in a new Iowa TV ad.

“We know in our bones this election is different,” says the ad’s narrator. “The stakes are higher, the threat more serious. We have to beat Donald Trump. And all the polls agree Joe Biden is the strongest Democrat to do the job.”

It’s been Biden’s core argument from day one, and in New Hampshire the other day his wife Jill was almost apologetically making the case that nothing else matters.

“Maybe you have to swallow a little bit and say ‘OK, I, sort of, personally like so-and-so better. But your bottom line has to be that we have to beat Trump.'”

There is more to the Biden pitch in the new ad, mostly that he was Barack Obama’s vice president for eight years. There’s even a shot of him embracing a teenager who resembles a young Obama.

But that new CNN poll shows why Biden’s framing of the race as a single-minded push to unseat Trump – whom the ad describes as “an erratic, vicious, bullying president” – is working.

It finds a 54% majority of Democrats say it’s more important that the nominee matches up well against Trump than shares their views on major issues. And that number tops 60 percent among voters earning more than $50,000 a year, college graduates, and those over age 45, three crucial primary voter demographics.

“Your candidate might be better on, I don’t know, healthcare than Joe is,” said an on-message Dr. Jill Biden. “But you’ve got to look at who’s going to win this election.”

Joe Biden’s weaknesses remain on display, such as his recent claim that the student gun-control activists from Parkland, Florida met with him while he was vice president when the Parkland school massacre happened a year after he left office.

But it’s the perception that – gaffes and all – he’s the field’s most electable Democrat that is sustaining Biden, and his new ad makes it clear he’s going to keep milking that cow.

Jon Keller

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