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Even as a rival says he is 'declining,' Biden keeps poll lead

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Former US vice-president Joe Biden continues to hold a lead among Democratic presidential aspirants, a new poll showed on Sunday, despite recent questions about his age and mental clarity.

[WASHINGTON] Former US vice-president Joe Biden continues to hold a lead among Democratic presidential aspirants, a new poll showed on Sunday, despite recent questions about his age and mental clarity.

Mr 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 Mr Biden favoured by 29 per cent of registered Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents, with Mr Sanders at 19 per cent and Ms Warren, who has been surging, at 18 per cent.

The survey of registered voters was conducted for four days through Thursday - the day when Mr Biden's age and energy levels came under their most direct attack yet from any of his Democratic rivals.

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"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' 

Mr 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 Mr 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.

Mr 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.

Mr Sanders turned 78 a few days ago, and Ms 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 per cent) is 54; Pete Buttigieg (fifth, at four per cent), is a mere 37.

And Mr Ryan, who at less than one per cent 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." Mr Swalwell, who is 38, has since dropped out of the race.

Other Democrats have been loath to directly criticise 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 favoured candidate among voters aged 18-49 was the oldest Democrat, Mr Sanders, at 26 per cent. But Mr Biden was not far behind, at 22 per cent, a gap within the poll's 6-point margin of error.

Among Democrats polled, 58 per cent said it does not matter whether their nominee is older or younger than 70. But 40 per cent believed a younger candidate would fare better against Mr Trump.

Meantime, the president drew a new challenger on Sunday - this time from his own Republican Party - as former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford announced his candidacy.

Mr Sanford, who is 59, said a central theme of his campaign would be the "astounding" debt and deficits piled up under Mr Trump.

"I think as a Republican party we have lost our way," he told "Fox News Sunday," adding that Mr Trump seemed much too comfortable with debt.

Also opposing Mr 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.

AFP