WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., lead the Democratic presidential field, according to the national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll’s opening measure of the 2020 horse race.
Biden gets the support of 26 percent of voters who say they will participate in next year’s Democratic primaries or caucuses, while 19 percent back Warren.
They’re followed by Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who are tied at 13 percent.
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg gets support from 7 percent of Democratic primary voters, and former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke and entrepreneur Andrew Yang are at 2 percent.
No other candidate gets more than 1 percent.
Biden performs best among African Americans, older Democrats and those who are moderate or conservative in their political views, while Warren runs strongest with self-described liberals and those ages 18 to 49.
Sanders also performs best among the youngest Democratic primary voters.
This NBC/WSJ poll was conducted July 7-9, after the first Democratic debates and the subsequent candidate skirmishes over the issues of race and health care.
New candidate Tom Steyer didn’t enter the race until July 9, and the survey didn’t test support for the billionaire activist.
The poll also asked Democratic primary voters about their second choice for president. The top responses were: Harris (14 percent), Warren (13 percent), Sanders (12 percent) and Biden (10 percent).
But importantly, only 12 percent of all Democratic primary voters said their mind is definitely made up, which suggests how malleable these numbers are.
“Every result looks so meaningful, so significant. And in truth, it is only July 2019,” cautioned Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff.
“They are looking at lots of candidates,” McInturff said of these voters, “and they don’t need to make a choice right now.”
A tale of two different Democratic primaries
The poll also shows how the Democratic electorate is divided — between voters who want substantial change and those who want smaller change.
Fifty-four percent of Democratic primary voters say they prefer a nominee who proposes larger-scale policies that might cost more and be harder to pass — but could still result in major change.
Among these voters, Warren leads the pack (at 29 percent), followed by Sanders (18 percent), Biden (16 percent) and Harris (14 percent).
By contrast, 41 percent of Democratic primary voters say they want a nominee who pushes for smaller-scale policies that cost less and might be easier to pass — but that bring less change.
And among these voters, Biden holds a substantial lead (at 35 percent), followed by Harris (14 percent), Buttigieg (8 percent) and Sanders (7 percent).
Similarly, Democratic primary voters are divided on what’s more important to them — a candidate who comes closest to their views on issues, or one who has the best chance to defeat President Donald Trump.
Fifty-one percent say issues are more important, and those voters break for Biden (18 percent), Warren (18 percent), Sanders (17 percent) and Harris (11 percent).
That’s compared with 45 percent who believe defeating Trump is more important, and they break Biden (at 34 percent), Warren (21 percent), Harris (16 percent), Buttigieg (8 percent) and Sanders (6 percent).
Democrats back government-run health care — but others don’t
Additionally, the poll finds that more than 7-in-10 Democratic primary voters favor a single-payer health care system in which all Americans get their health insurance from one government plan financed in part by taxes.
But that’s compared with just 36 percent of independent voters and 14 percent of Republicans who back government-run health care.
Among all voters, 44 percent support it, versus 49 percent who oppose it.
Divided on impeachment
Meanwhile, Democratic primary voters remain divided on impeaching Trump: 41 percent believe there’s enough evidence to begin impeachment hearings now, versus 39 percent who say Congress should continue investigating to see if there’s enough evidence to hold impeachment hearings in the future.
Only 19 percent of Democratic primary voters think that Congress should not hold impeachment hearings and that Trump should finish his term as president.
Among all voters, 21 percent support beginning impeachment now; another 27 percent want more hearings; and 50 percent believe the country should move on.
Who impressed the most at the first debates?
Fifty-one percent of Democratic primary voters say they either watched or listened to some of the first two presidential debates, and another 29 percent say they paid close attention to the news coverage of them.
When these respondents were asked which candidates impressed them the most — they were allowed up to three choices — the top answers were Harris, Warren, Buttigieg and Biden.
And interest in the Democratic primary race remains high, with a combined 82 percent of primary voters saying they’re “very closely” or “somewhat closely” following the contest.
“We know they are paying attention,” McInturff, the GOP pollster, said.
The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted July 7-9 of 800 total registered voters — more than half reached by cellphone — and that has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.5 percentage points.
Among the 400 Democratic primary voters surveyed, the margin of error is plus-minus 4.9 percentage points.
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Sondland says all the president’s men focused on Biden probe
Gordon Sondland flipped on President Donald Trump — and all the president’s men.
“We followed the president’s orders,” Sondland told lawmakers Wednesday at the House impeachment inquiry hearing.
The U.S. ambassador to the European Union described in detail how Trump and several of his top lieutenants — including personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former national security adviser John Bolton, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney — were all “in the loop” on a policy that increasingly focused on securing the announcement of investigations affecting American politics.
“Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma,” Sondland said. “Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the president.”
The announcement of such probes would have benefited Trump politically by casting aspersions on one of the president’s leading rivals — former Vice President Joe Biden — and on the intelligence community’s finding that Russia intervened on his behalf during the 2016 election.
Under intense questioning from Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., Sondland conceded that a Biden investigation would help Trump — though he said he didn’t originally understand the effort to be aimed at the former vice president — and that the request for it would put Ukraine in a terrible position.
Sondland testified that administration officials collectively used the lure of a White House meeting, and possibly the release of $391 million in aid, to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to announce the investigations.
Sondland also said the group’s demands were on a “continuum of insidiousness” that grew worse over a period of months, and that there was a “quid pro quo” relationship between the meeting and the proposed probes.
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Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are pushing to gather enough evidence to justify an article of impeachment involving bribery, and they believe Sondland’s testimony moved them further in that direction.
But even short of that, he provided a mountain of fresh details about the breadth and depth of the administration’s focus on using the powers of the executive branch for what Democrats say are partisan political purposes — justification, perhaps, for articles based on “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Several of those named, including Pence, Pompeo, Mulvaney and Perry — none of whom have testified — quickly denied elements of Sondland’s story personally, or through aides.
As for the military aid, Sondland said he had come to the conclusion that the president had frozen $391 million in taxpayer dollars as leverage to win those political probes before speaking to Trump in early September. His decision to tell an aide to Zelenskiy that funds would not be unfrozen until a public announcement of the investigations was made was “based on my communications with Secretary Pompeo,” he said.
What he carefully declined to do was either condemn or exonerate Trump on the question of whether the president was actually using federal money to extort Ukraine. If someone accuses Trump of extortion or soliciting a bribe, it won’t be him.
In a moment Republicans were quick to point to in the president’s defense, Sondland testified that “President Trump never told me directly that the aid was conditioned on the investigations.”
He also testified that Trump told him “no quid pro quo” when Sondland called in early September to ask what was needed to free up the money.
“I want nothing,” a cranky Trump said, Sondland testified. “I want nothing. No quid pro quo. Tell Zelenskiy to do the right thing.”
Republican staff lawyer Steve Castor noted that Sondland hadn’t mentioned in an opening statement the fact that Trump had not connected the aid to investigations in direct conversations.
“This is an exculpatory fact shedding light on the president’s state of mind,” Castor said.
But at the time, the White House was already aware that a whistleblower complaint involving a possible exchange of foreign aid for political investigations was making its way through the intelligence community’s inspector general process and the Justice Department.
At one point in October, Mulvaney said that the money was conditioned on an investigation into possible Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election — based on what U.S. officials have called a conspiracy theory — but he later walked that back and said his remarks had been misconstrued.
“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney said before reversing course.
Sondland said in his opening statement that he watched as the White House piled on more demands of the Ukrainians over the summer, and he agreed with Democratic lawyer Daniel Goldman’s formulation that he made a “two plus two equals four” calculation to arrive at the conclusion that the money wouldn’t flow without the announcement of investigations.
If you can’t get a meeting without the statement, he said, “what makes you think you’re going to get a $400 million check?”
In the end, Sondland threaded a careful needle. He pulled up short of accusing his boss of bribery.
But he also implicated the president and several of his closest advisers in putting Trump’s political interests ahead of his country’s. And he said “quid pro quo.”
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