by Brian KNOWLTON
Former vice president Joe Biden continues to hold a lead among Democratic presidential aspirants, a new poll showed Sunday, despite recent questions about his age and mental clarity.
Biden’s lead among Democratic voters has remained relatively steady, as he and senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren increasingly emerge as a distinct top tier in the large field, according to the Washington Post/ABC News poll.
The poll showed Biden favored by 29 percent of registered Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents, with Sanders at 19 percent and Warren, who has been surging, at 18 percent.
The survey of registered voters was conducted for four days through Thursday — the day when Biden’s age and energy levels came under their most direct attack yet from any of his Democratic rivals.
“I just think Biden is declining,” Ohio congressman Tim Ryan told a Bloomberg News reporter in a phone call. “I don’t think he has the energy. You see it almost daily.
“And I love the guy.”
‘A lack of clarity’
Ryan later said he thought he was on a fund-raising call, not speaking to a reporter, and in subsequent comments he backed away — partly — from his original remarks. Concerns about Biden’s mental clarity were something “you’re hearing from a lot of people in the country,” he said.
Age has been an unavoidable issue in the Democrats’ campaign to unseat the 73-year-old Donald Trump.
Biden is 76, with a longtime reputation for frequent verbal gaffes. He recently told a moving anecdote about pinning a medal on an Afghan war hero but got multiple details wrong.
Sanders turned 78 a few days ago, and Warren is 70.
Many of their Democratic rivals are of much younger generations, as they are quick to point out.
Senator Kamala Harris (fourth in the Post poll, at seven percent) is 54; Pete Buttigieg (fifth, at four percent), is a mere 37.
And Ryan, who at less than one percent has been struggling for attention, is 46.
‘Time to pass the torch’
For the most part, the younger candidates have drawn only indirect contrasts between themselves and the older Biden, who has visibly grayed since he stepped down as vice president to Barack Obama in 2017.
Eric Swalwell was more blunt when he noted during a Democratic debate that he was six years old when then-Senator Biden said that “it’s time to pass the torch to a new generation.” Swalwell, who is 38, has since dropped out of the race.
Other Democrats have been loath to directly criticize the well-liked Biden.
Asked on Sunday about Ryan’s comment, Senator Amy Klobuchar demurred, telling a CNN interviewer, “I’m running my own campaign.”
But the 59-year-old Klobuchar quickly added: “I have a lot of energy. I’m someone who never stops working.”
Ironically, the favored candidate among voters aged 18-49 was the oldest Democrat, Sanders, at 26 percent. But Biden was not far behind, at 22 percent, a gap within the poll’s 6-point margin of error.
Among Democrats polled, 58 percent said it does not matter whether their nominee is older or younger than 70. But 40 percent believed a younger candidate would fare better against Trump.
Meantime, the president drew a new challenger Sunday — this time from his own Republican Party — as former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford announced his candidacy.
Sanford, who is 59, said a central theme of his campaign would be the “astounding” debt and deficits piled up under Trump.
“I think as a Republican party we have lost our way,” he told “Fox News Sunday,” adding that Trump seemed much too comfortable with debt.
Also opposing Trump for the Republican nomination are Joe Walsh, a former Tea Party firebrand who served a single term in Congress, and William Weld, a former Massachusetts governor.
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