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Vice President Joe Biden is gaining ground in national polls, as well as in the early primary states, making more viable a potential late entry into the Democratic presidential race against heavy hitters Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

It should be noted, of course, that Biden does have a unique advantage over the others right now: He isn’t actually running at the moment, and thus is not being put through the intense media scrutiny that comes with a real candidacy. All of that could change if he were to enter — but for now, at least, it does seem like he could find some fertile ground.

The new Monmouth University poll shows Clinton ahead nationally with 42 percent, then Biden at 22 percent, edging out Sanders with 20 percent.

The poll found that Biden has a personal favorability rating among Democratic voters of 71 percent, and an unfavorable rating of only 9 percent — even better than Clinton’s ratings of 71 percent to 17 percent. Sanders, having much less overall public recognition than the other two, has a favorable rating of 41 percent, against a very low 14 percent unfavorable.

The poll also asked respondents if they would be more or less likely to support Biden if he were to announce that Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) as his running mate. (Biden recently met with Warren, which kicked off some media speculation.) Overall, 23 percent said they would be more likely to back a Biden-Warren ticket, 7 percent would be less likely to vote for Biden, and for 66 percent it would make no difference.

“However,” the pollster’s analysis says, “current supporters of Bernie Sanders (43 percent) are more likely than Hillary Clinton voters (18 percent) to say that naming Warren to the veep slot would make them more likely to support Biden.”

In addition, a set of NBC News/Marist College polls released on Sunday showed Biden making a significant showing in the key early primary contests.

In Iowa, Clinton is ahead with 38 percent, then Sanders at 27 percent and Biden at 20 percent. In New Hampshire, Sanders is ahead with 41 percent, then Clinton at 32 percent, and Biden with 16 percent.

(In all of these polls, the three other candidates — Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chafee—were in the low single digits.)

Interestingly, Marist also tested these two races without Biden as a choice, and it would appear that the vice president’s supporters are split pretty evenly between Clinton and Sanders: In Iowa, Clinton now gets 48 percent support to Sanders’ 37 percent, and in New Hampshire Sanders leads with 49 percent over Clinton’s 38 percent.

The poll also shows Biden running better in a general election than Clinton does, against either Jeb Bush or Donald Trump:

Iowa

  • Bush 50 percent, Clinton 39 percent
  • Trump 48 percent Clinton 43 percent
  • Bush 46 percent, Biden 44 percent
  • Biden 49 percent, Trump 45 percent.

New Hampshire

  • Bush 48 percent, Clinton 43 percent
  • Clinton 46 percent, Trump 45 percent
  • Bush 46 percent, Biden 45 percent
  • Biden 50 percent, Trump 41 percent

Photo: U.S. vice president Joe Biden speaks prior to the kickoff of the Allegheny County Labor Day Parade in Pittsburgh, PA on September 7, 2015. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

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