WASHINGTON: Joe Biden's standing in the Democratic presidential nomination battle has slipped in Iowa against top rivals including Elizabeth Warren, the frontrunner in the early-voting state, who on Friday (Nov 1) answered critics over how she will pay for her progressive policies.
As candidates battle for supremacy in the crowded race to see who will challenge US President Donald Trump in November 2020, Warren took the risky political gamble of unveiling a US$20.5 trillion Medicare for All plan.
How to pay for expanding and improving health care has become a flashpoint of the Democratic race, with Warren and her fellow progressive Senator Bernie Sanders pushing a sweeping transition to universal health care and the centrist Biden seeking to build on the existing Obamacare system.
Biden, the former vice president and longtime frontrunner in the national race, led for months in Iowa but that commanding lead has eroded since September.
He suddenly finds himself in fourth position in the heartland state that votes first in the Democratic nomination, according to The New York Times/Siena College poll out Friday, with the rise of Warren, a continued solid showing by Sanders, and a significant upswing by small-town mayor Pete Buttigieg.
The poll shows a tight top-tier race three months before February's Iowa caucuses, with Warren leading with 22 per cent support, followed by Sanders at 19 per cent, Buttigieg at 18 per cent and Biden at 17 per cent.
The figures are good news for Buttigieg, who has enjoyed a seven-point bump in Iowa since August, polling shows.
No other candidates in the crowded field come close in the Siena survey of 439 Iowa Democratic caucus goers.
The poll reflects other warning signs for Biden. The 76-year-old is faring poorly with a younger demographic, with only two percent of respondents under age 45 saying they support Biden.
The figures highlight Biden's fade from his 28.5 per cent support in Iowa six weeks ago, according to a RealClearPolitics poll aggregate.
Since then Biden has been caught up in the scandal forming the basis of the presidential impeachment investigation, as Trump stands accused of pressuring Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden and his son who worked with a Ukrainian energy company.
Biden's support in New Hampshire, which votes second in the nomination race, has also dropped, polls show, from 34.5 per cent in mid-July to 21 per cent now, four points behind leader Warren.
Warren has been under fire for not releasing details of her long-awaited health plan. She pushed back Friday, unveiling a cost structure that she says would save American families US$11 trillion in out-of-pocket expenses over the next decade.
Under Warren's proposal, Medicare, the US government health insurance program for the elderly and disabled, would be expanded to cover all Americans. It would replace private health insurance.
The plan would not require raising middle-class taxes "one penny," she said on her website.
Nearly half of the cost would come from having employers pay Medicare instead of private insurance companies.
The remainder would be financed by cuts to defence spending, new taxes on giant corporations and the wealthiest one percent of Americans, and crackdowns on tax evasion and fraud.
Biden's campaign swiftly criticised the plan as "mathematical gymnastics" and "double talk" that masks the difficulties of delivering "Medicare for All" without middle-class tax hikes.
Warren's plan highlights a major divide among Democrats over whether to reach for the sky with ambitious but expensive progressive policies, or make substantive changes that are more within reach.
The more moderate Buttigieg, 37, has also pushed back against Warren's plan, arguing Americans should be able to keep their insurance if they want.
With pressure squeezing both Biden and Warren, 14 candidates were headed to a high-profile dinner Friday in Iowa to woo thousands of Democratic voters.
The Liberty and Justice fundraiser is seen as a launchpad for Democratic candidates seeking a breakout moment to propel them toward the Iowa caucus.