By James Oliphant
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two opinion polls from the states holding the first presidential nominating contests brought good news on Monday for former Vice President Joe Biden in his bid to be the 2020 Democratic nominee.
Surveys of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire showed Biden atop a clustered Democratic field.
A poll by Monmouth University of likely Iowa caucus-goers showed Biden with 24 percent of the vote, 6 points ahead of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.
Iowa holds its caucuses on Feb. 3. On Tuesday, six of the remaining 12 candidates in the field will debate in Des Moines, Iowa.
A poll of New Hampshire voters conducted by Franklin Pierce University showed Biden at 26% in that state – 4 points up on Sanders. New Hampshire holds it primary on Feb. 11.
The Monmouth poll surveyed 405 likely caucus-goers by phone from Thursday to Sunday and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. The Franklin Pierce University telephone poll sampled 434 likely voters from Tuesday to Sunday, with a margin of error of 4.7 points.
Until recently, polls had Biden struggling a bit in both states, giving rise to speculation he would have to withstand some early losses before reaching contests in states such as South Carolina, where he has a better shot at winning.
But the new polls raise the prospect that Biden could secure the nomination more quickly than expected. He continues to lead the field in most national polls.
Biden, 77, who served two terms under President Barack Obama, has argued on the campaign trail that recent tensions between the United States and Iran buttress his argument that his deep foreign policy experience makes him the ideal candidate to take on Republican President Donald Trump in the November election.
Even with the new surveys, the Democratic race remains tight and unsettled.
A poll of Iowa voters released on Friday conducted by the Des Moines Register and CNN showed Sanders atop the field at 20%, with U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren second and Biden fourth.
A poll released last week by Monmouth of New Hampshire voters showed essentially a three-way tie among Biden, Sanders and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Taken together, the recent surveys suggest that Biden, Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg, all of whom have strong organizations and a wealth of resources, will head into the early contests each with a strong chance of picking up delegates in the quest for the nomination.
The first candidate to amass just short of 2,000 delegates would clinch the party’s nomination and the right to battle Trump in the general election campaign.
(Reporting by James Oliphant; Editing by Peter Cooney)