By Graham J Noble

Which way is the wind blowing for Democratic presidential hopefuls? Is the party veering further left, or will voters select a more moderate, pragmatic challenger to President Donald Trump in 2020? An early indicator is the recent Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll of likely caucus-goers, and the result suggests the party faithful are split on the question of how far left is too left. Notably, one of the two front-runners has not even officially entered the race, and the rest of the pack still has a lot of work to do.

The road to the Democratic nomination is long, to be fair, and the poll in question – conducted March 3- 6  – is only a small sampling, but the candidates got an early peek into what it will take for the opposition party to win the opportunity to reclaim the White House.

The 401 respondents broke almost evenly for Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, with the remainder of the candidates lagging significantly. Biden, who has yet to announce a run, claimed 27% of the vote, while Sanders hit 25% – well within the poll’s margin of error. None of the remaining contenders broke double figures. Elizabeth Warren, who led among the also-rans, got 9%.

Biden’s Past Presidential Struggles

In the eyes of most poll respondents, Biden’s strengths are his experience and the relatively moderate tones of his political views, which likely voters said were “about right” – neither too conservative nor too liberal. Most pundits believe Barack Obama’s former V.P. will soon jump into the race, and the Iowa poll is certain to encourage him.

Running for president in the past has not gone well for the 76-year-old. In 1988, he dropped out of the Democratic primary almost in disgrace, after being accused of plagiarizing a published article for a law school paper. He also was accused of copying the work of several political figures – including Robert Kennedy – for campaign speeches. Biden admitted his law school transgression when he dropped out of the race.

In 2007, Biden gave it another shot, but – up against Hillary Clinton and Obama for the Democratic nomination – his campaign went nowhere. This time around, he may at least have a better chance by virtue of having been vice president and because the Democratic field has no outstanding figures. Both Clinton and Obama were viewed, at least by Democrat voters, as virtually destined to be president. Today, the party has no such candidate – though, perhaps, Sanders and Warren have come close to achieving a cult-like status on the political left.

Different Ideologies, Same Problems

Bernie versus Biden probably sums up where the Democratic Party is ideologically: the more moderate and realistic old guard contrasting with the new progressive/socialist idealism to which the party’s base appears to be turning. The biggest problem both candidates likely face is that, despite their philosophical differences, they share a demographic problem. They are both old white men in a party attempting to sell itself as young and diverse.

Can either of these two men overcome their shared disadvantages of wrong age, wrong sex, and wrong race? Would Democrat primary voters choose Biden, thus putting the party a little closer to the center, or would they go with Sanders, officially approving the shift to a radical socialist platform? Whether the final choice is either of these two men or someone else, this primary contest will shape the character of the Democratic Party for at least the next decade.

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