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Capitol Insiders Survey: Biden still the man to beat

Democratic and Republican staffers polled agree former vice president has best chance to beat Trump in November

Joe Biden wearing a suit and tie
Former Vice President Joe Biden is seen as the strongest Democratic nominee by Democratic staffers on Capitol Hill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo) (CQ Roll Call)

Pete Buttigieg may have squeaked out more Democratic delegates in the Iowa caucus over Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders. But on Capitol Hill, former Vice President Joe Biden is still the candidate to beat.

Polled by CQ Roll Call a week before Iowans voted, a strong plurality of Democratic congressional staffers, 47 percent of the respondents, said they thought Biden was the best candidate to beat President Donald Trump in November. Sanders, with 21 percent, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, with 17 percent, finished a distant second and third. Buttigieg didn’t get a vote.

The Democratic aides were more convinced that Biden would win the nomination, with 61 percent of respondents saying as much. Only 19 percent thought it would be Sanders, with Warren again at 17 percent.

CQ Roll Call emailed the Capitol Insiders Survey to aides on Jan. 20 and they had through Jan. 22 to respond. Of the 148 respondents, 86 were Democrats, 60 were Republicans and two were independents.

a screenshot of a cell phone

Biden’s preferability was a rare issue on which Democratic and Republican aides agreed. Half of the Republican respondents said Biden was the most likely candidate to beat Trump, and 3 in 5 said he’d get the nomination. The Republican aides fear no one else. Buttigieg was a very distant second, with 10 percent of the GOP staffers saying he would be most likely to beat Trump. Only one Republican respondent said Sanders was the most formidable candidate, and none thought Warren would be.

Both sides expect the 2020 elections to leave the status quo in place in Congress, with 93 percent of the Republicans predicting they’d retain the Senate, along with 56 percent of the Democrats.

The Democrats, though, were unanimous in predicting they’d keep the House, while 55 percent of the Republican staffers agreed.

Both sides expect to win the presidential election, but Democrats, with 63 percent to the Republicans’ 93 percent, were less confident. That is perhaps a reflection of the divisions between party moderates and progressives. Asked if those would hurt the party in 2020, 52 percent of the Democrats who filled out the poll said yes, compared with 25 percent who said they would not and 23 percent who were unsure.

A rare area of agreement was on policy. Both Republican and Democratic aides think legislation on drug pricing and surprise medical billing has a good shot.

Seventy percent of Republicans predicted enactment of a new drug-pricing law, while 85 percent said Congress would pass a law on surprise medical billing to help patients who are, unbeknownst to them, served by an out-of-network doctor. Fifty-eight percent of the Democrats said Congress and Trump would enact a drug-pricing law, while 53 percent said there would be a law on surprise medical billing.

In something of a contradiction, though, Democratic aides expressed a greater willingness to work with Trump. Forty-nine percent said they’d like to see their bosses compromise with him, while 35 percent said they should stonewall the president.

By contrast, 54 percent of the Republicans said the senators and representatives they work for should focus on highlighting their differences with Democrats in 2020, with 46 percent preferring that they seek areas of compromise.

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