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Biden gains new energy in Virginia, while Sanders, Bloomberg slide, poll finds

Sen. Bernie Sanders, former vice president Joe Biden and former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg at the Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas on Feb. 19. (Mike Blake/Reuters)
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Former vice president Joe Biden appears to have regained momentum in Virginia ahead of Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primary election, while Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and billionaire Mike Bloomberg have both lost support, a poll released Friday shows.

In the survey by Christopher Newport University’s Wason Center for Public Policy, 22 percent of likely Democratic voters said they preferred Biden.

Sanders (I), who has been leading in national polls after successes in Nevada, New Hampshire and Iowa, was second among Virginia voters, with 17 percent.

Bloomberg, the former New York mayor who has saturated Virginia with campaign ads, trailed behind in third place, with 13 percent.

All the other Democratic candidates polled in the single digits — Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg garnered 8 percent support, compared with 5 percent for Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and 1 percent for billionaire activist Tom Steyer. Of the 561 likely Democratic voters surveyed, 13 percent said they’re undecided.

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The poll was conducted during a volatile February in which the candidates took swipes at one another. It could give Biden new energy as the candidates head into Saturday’s primary election in South Carolina, where the former vice president has staked his hopes for a broader resurgence after disappointing results in primary contests.

Virginia, where 99 delegates are at stake, is one of 14 states holding Democratic primaries on Super Tuesday.

For both Sanders and Bloomberg, the results show some signs of diminishing support in the state; a Monmouth University poll conducted earlier this month showed them tied at the top of the field, with only 1 in 4 voters certain about their choice. Both candidates have come under intense fire in recent weeks as their opponents seek to gain traction with voters.

Virginia, where 99 delegates are at stake, is one of 14 states holding Democratic primaries on Super Tuesday. (Video: The Washington Post)

Sanders, a democratic socialist who has energized the party’s more liberal wing and who held a rally in Richmond on Thursday, is accused of being too divisive, with more moderate Democrats suggesting a November matchup between Sanders and President Trump would be disastrous.

That concern about Sanders in a historically moderate state was reflected in the poll, with 67 percent of respondents saying they are worried that the eventual party nominee might be “too liberal.”

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Bloomberg has been forced to defend himself against resurfaced allegations of mistreatment of women in his company and a stop-and-frisk policy during his mayoral term that targeted African Americans and Latinos.

But a Wason Center analysis released with the poll results said both candidates remain “in striking range” of winning in Virginia.

“Although Biden is safely ahead of Bloomberg, he is within the margin of error with Sanders, and Sanders and Bloomberg are within the margin of error from each other,” the analysis said. The margin of error among likely Democratic voters was plus or minus 4.3 percent.

As several candidates prepare to visit the state and whip up support over the weekend, the poll shows that the fractious nature of the Democratic race so far has turned off many Virginians.

Just 67 percent of likely Democratic primary voters said they would “definitely” support the party’s nominee in the November election against Trump if their preferred candidate doesn’t win, although another 15 percent said they plan to do so.

At the same time, the poll asked 866 registered voters to choose between Trump, who lost Virginia to Hillary Clinton in 2016, and “someone else.” Just 38 percent of respondents chose the president.

On the question of “electability” for the Democratic nominee, likely Democratic primary voters were evenly split, with 49 percent saying that is most important to them and 48 percent saying the candidates’ platforms matter most.

Of all registered voters surveyed, 60 percent said they preferred to “maintain” their health insurance instead of adopting a Medicare-for-all plan that Sanders and Warren have advocated.

Just 9 percent said they wanted the current health-care system to be “ended promptly,” while 28 percent said they’d like to see it phased out over time.

Only 15 percent supported canceling student loans for all borrowers, another Sanders initiative. While 38 percent supported reducing loan debt, 32 percent said student loans should be left alone.

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