By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – It’s a first in the Democratic race for president — a new poll showing Sen. Bernie Sanders at the head of the pack.

The national CNN survey shows Sanders in a statistical tie with former Vice President Joe Biden. But he enjoys a wide lead over Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

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And that’s a good news/bad news story.

The good news is no candidate is more passionate about their beliefs or draws more fervent support from their base. And polls show Sanders’ blunt populism appeals to young voters and some of the alienated who abandoned the Democrats for Donald Trump in 2016.

The bad news is on graphic display in a string of Trump tweets promoting Sanders for the Democratic nomination and punch lines like this one from a recent rally: “Taking their cues from socialist Bernie Sanders, all of these people — liberal lawmakers — are pushing a government takeover of health care that would strip 180 million Americans of their private health insurance.”

Cue the chorus of boos.

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For the Trump campaign, Sanders is a made-to-order opponent burdened by fallout from his sometimes-bitter campaign against Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, for Democratic primary and caucus voters this year, having a strong chance of beating Trump is much more important than sharing their views on big issues.

And when the pollsters ask who has the best shot at defeating the president, Sanders struggles to draw half as well as the race’s best-known centrist, Biden.

There’s a long way to go.

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Fifty-eight percent of those polled by CNN say they might change their minds about who they support. And while a Sanders win in Iowa might be the start of something big, it might also spark a New Hampshire backlash.

Jon Keller