Even with his well-documented penchant for gaffes, his tendency to flub or embellish stories, and his outright lying about his positions on the issues, Joe Biden’s lead in national Democratic presidential polling has been consistent and stable.

But we’re just a few months out from the start of Democratic primaries and caucuses, and the focus is shifting from national polls to state-level polls. It is in some of the early primary state polls that we see cracks in Joe Biden’s wall of support:

a CBS News and YouGov survey among likely Democratic voters in early voting states finds Biden in a tight matchup against Warren and Sanders, who have galvanized the party’s progressive base.

In that poll, also released Sunday, Biden is neck and neck with either Warren and Sanders in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. The only early voting state in which he holds a sizable lead, South Carolina, finds him at 43% over Sanders’ 18% and Warren’s 14%, a reflection of his strong support among African-Americans.

Among 18 states that will hold primaries or caucuses early in 2020, including those on Super Tuesday, Warren stands at 26% about even with Biden at 25%, with Sanders in third place at 19%. Harris trails behind with 8% along with Buttigieg (6%) and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke (4%). Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker each have 2% support across these states, with the rest of the Democratic field at 1% or less.

Here’s the breakdown of those numbers:

CBS News is also doing something new this year in trying to predict the delegate counts for each candidate. They have not revealed the methodology they used to determine the numbers:

The former vice president now clings to a narrow lead over Warren in our CBS News/YouGov Tracker estimate of convention delegates — the only count that ultimately matters — with an estimated 600 delegates of all delegates available through Super Tuesday, to Warren’s 545.

Warren has gained delegate share as supporters of other, lower-tier candidates have been switching their preferences toward her.

Politico reports that at this stage of the game, some of Biden’s prominent supporters and surrogates are getting “nervous.” His rivals are waiting in the wings to capitalize on his inevitable future screw-ups:

“There’s a clear worry among Biden supporters that he can’t be the front-runner from June of 2019 through July of 2020 … that eventually, the gaffes will pile up and he’ll come down,” said Ed Rendell, a former Pennsylvania governor and one of Biden’s most vocal supporters.

Many of Biden’s supporters, said Rendell, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, are “nervous as hell.”

In part, the anxiety surrounding Biden’s candidacy is rooted in the last presidential campaign. After Hillary Clinton was upset by Trump, many Democrats adopted a more sober view of what it means to be a front-runner.

And unlike in the 2016 primary — a two-person race between Clinton and Bernie Sanders — the primary this year is stacked with credible alternatives. William Owen, a DNC member from Tennessee who has endorsed Biden, said that although he expects Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, two more progressive Democrats in the race, to continue to split the support among the party’s left flank, “If one of them starts surging, we’re in trouble.”

Well, then they should probably be anxious right now because Warren is surging.

Biden has also been plagued with suggestions his support comes from people who are not enthusiastic about his candidacy. They support him because they believe he is the most electable. Some say the grassroots enthusiasm for Biden is not there, which could lead to big problems come time for the general election in the event he wins the nomination.

But will he be able to win it outright during the primaries, or be awarded at the Democratic National Convention in July 2020? Crucial state-level polls have some Democrats concerned they will not have a clear winner, at the convention. This means super delegates would have to decide:

But in the bar and hallways of a meeting here last week of the Democratic National Committee, some party insiders quietly expressed concern that the large field of 2020 candidates, new party rules and a front-loaded primary calendar could conspire to create a chaotic nominating convention next year.

“Unless something cataclysmic happens, I think we’re looking at a contested convention,” said Jim Zogby, a longtime DNC member and former member of the party’s executive committee. “I think we’re not going to get to the convention with an outright winner.”

All the top campaigns are taking the possibility of a contested convention seriously and have begun wooing the party’s 700-plus super delegates, who thanks to a new rule will only get to weigh in on a nominee if next year’s primaries and caucuses fail to produce a clear winner.

Sanders believes the Democrats stole the 2016 nomination from him and as a result, will stay in to settle some old scores instead of dropping out to help Biden or Warren. If Warren can maintain her campaign’s enthusiasm, she won’t drop out, either. She and her supporters would love to avenge Warren adviser Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss by finally cracking the so-called glass ceiling.

Warren is a competitor if nothing else. I suspect the chance to take down the guy who thoroughly destroyed her fake Native American claims will motivate her to continue instead of dropping out to help Biden or Bernie.

Assuming that Biden, Sanders, and Warren remain in the top tier going into the primaries, it’s a strong possibility that a contested convention is indeed the most likely scenario.

Time to stock up on the popcorn.

— Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym “Sister Toldjah” and can be reached via Twitter. —


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