Clinton Halts Her Skid in the Polls, but the Biden Threat Still Looms
Policy + Politics

Clinton Halts Her Skid in the Polls, but the Biden Threat Still Looms

REUTERS/David Becker

With signs that her political hemorrhaging may finally be abating, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton was careful over the weekend to gingerly step around the topic of a possible late entry into the race by Vice President Joseph Biden – one that might seriously upend her prospects for winning the nomination.

“This is such a personal decision and the vice president has to sort this out,” Clinton said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” with regard to Biden’s deliberations over whether to enter the race while still grieving the loss of his 46 year old son,  Beau, to brain cancer.  “He’s been so open in talking about how difficult this time is for him and his family and he’s obviously considering what he wants to do including whether to run.”

Related: Spontaneous or Scripted? Clinton Tries to Loosen Up with Jimmy Fallon

"I just have the greatest respect and affection for him and I think everybody just ought to give him the space to decide what's best for his family," she added.

After months of controversy over her mishandling of emails at the State Department while Democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has surged in Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton appears to be in a more commanding position nationally, a new CNN/ORC poll shows.

Clinton currently garners the support of 42 percent of Democratic primary voters across the country, compared to 24 percent for Sanders, 22 percent for Biden if he were to get into the race, and just 1 percent for former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley. This is in contrast to an early September survey showing Clinton leading Sanders by just 37 percent to 27 percent, with Biden attracting 20 percent.

The good news for Clinton is that if the 72-year-old Biden decides by the end of the month to stay out of the race, virtually all of his support would migrate to Clinton. Without the highly regarded vice president mounting a third bid for the presidency, Clinton's numbers would rise by 15 percentage points, while Sanders would gain only 4 percent points. That would provide the former secretary of state and U.S. senator with a 57 percent to 28 percent advantage – about two to one -- among Democrats nationally, according to CNN.

Related: Sanders Pulls Ahead in Iowa, but a Tougher Clinton Aims to Even the Score

If Biden chooses to enter the race and wage a long-shot campaign for the Democratic nomination, it could be a nightmare scenario for Clinton, who already is bracing for a tough, protracted battle with Sanders, the darling of college students and the party’s left wing. Although Clinton has led in national polls of Democrats for more than a year, she has fallen behind Sanders in New Hampshire and at times in Iowa because of a raging controversy over her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state and widespread belief in both parties that she is aloof and dishonest in discussing her record.

Clinton made a similar showing to the CNN/ORC results in the latest NBC News online survey conducted by SurveyMonkey from Wednesday night through Friday. Forty-two percent of Democrats nationwide said they support Clinton, compared to 29 percent for Sanders and 15 percent for Biden. However, the NBC poll suggests that Clinton’s decline is still ongoing.

In an effort to staunch that slide, Clinton in the past month or so has mounted a two-pronged strategy of rolling out major initiatives aimed at helping the middle class and wooing liberal Democrats – including environmental reforms, college tuition assistance and tax reform – while also waging something of a charm offensive.

The same night that the Republicans held their second presidential debate last Wednesday, Clinton joked with Jimmy Fallon on “The Tonight Show.” Her appearance, which drew considerable commentary, opened with a skit in which Fallon donned a wig to imitate billionaire GOP frontrunner Donald Trump to discuss women’s issues, immigration and Sanders with Clinton.

Related: Trump Walks Into an Ambush in Second GOP Presidential Debate

Then on Sunday, she chortled when she told “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson that it was impossible to describe “the real Hillary Clinton” in just three words, as Dickerson had asked her to do. “I mean, look, I am a real person with all the pluses and minuses that go along with being that,” Clinton said.

During the wide-ranging, nearly half-hour interview, the former first lady stressed that her economic policy “is centered on raising income [for the middle class], because I think we inherited from the Bush administration what President Obama had to deal with,” which could have easily turned into another “Great Depression” instead of a “Great Recession.”

She has sought to match Sanders in promoting a raft of liberal Democratic economic and social initiatives, and she will unveil a plan this week for containing the sharp growth in the cost of prescription drugs. However, Clinton has done her best to tack a more centrist course than Sanders to expand her appeal in the South, the Midwest and other more conservative regions that she will need to sew up the nomination.

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“You know, I get accused of being kind of a moderate,” she told a group of women in Columbus, Ohio earlier this month. “I plead guilty.”