A new survey of Democratic convention delegates indicates that the race for the presidential nomination has come down to Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

Biden, the former vice president, has an estimated 600 delegates in the 18 states holding primaries on or before the Super Tuesday voting of March 3, 2020. Warren, the Massachusetts senator, is close behind with an estimated 545 delegates, while Sanders, the Vermont senator, has 286.

The survey by CBS News and YouGov, a public opinion and data company, indicates that Warren is gaining ground as more supporters of less-popular candidates gravitate to her. In the 18 early-voting states, she leads Biden 27 percent to 26, with Sanders at 19 percent.

This is noteworthy because the publicity from strong showings in the states that vote early can propel a candidate to the nomination. If Warren performs as well in the primaries as she is in these polls, her odds of winning the nomination are good.

If there is good news for Biden, it’s that he isn’t losing any support from his contention that he’s best positioned to beat President Trump next year. But he’s not capturing many voters who originally liked a different candidate.

In the four states with earliest voting, the survey says Biden leads in two: Iowa and South Carolina. He has a 3 percentage point lead over Sanders in Iowa. Only in South Carolina is he in command, with 43 percent support while no one else has 20.

Warren has a 27-26 percent lead over Biden in New Hampshire, while Sanders leads Biden 29-27 in Nevada.  

It’s too early for any more specifics; the first voting isn’t for five months. And it may be premature to eliminate some other candidates like Sen. Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind.

But if the survey results are accurate, this leaves Democratic voters with a difficult decision: Focus on electability? Or think bigger?

Biden clearly is the safe vote; the known quantity, the experienced politician who was at a groundbreaking president’s side for eight years. A full three quarters of those surveyed think he can beat Trump in 2020.

Warren’s electability measure is much lower, at 55 percent, but it has risen noticeably over the past two months. And 58 percent of those surveyed think Sanders could beat the president next year.

If Democrats are as exasperated with Trump as they say, that gives Biden an edge. But if they want to be more aggressive about policy, such as Medicare for All, gun control or the response to climate change, Warren or Sanders probably would be a better pick.

All this philosophizing overlooks the fact that Trump won 31 states in 2016, so he is starting from a built-in base of support. The president remains likely to get re-elected next year, especially if the economy avoids a recession.

Also working in Trump’s favor is the fact that, among his five immediate predecessors, only George H.W. Bush did not serve eight years.

When it comes to presidential elections, the country appears to be in a relatively stable period, though the flip-flopping pattern between the two parties is very evident.

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