Joe Biden put clear water between himself and other Democrat presidential candidates on the issue of abortion as he pulled into a surprise poll lead over Donald Trump in the traditionally conservative state of Texas.
He enraged pro-choice activists, and many senior Democrat colleagues, by confirming he was against the idea of the US government using taxpayers’ money to fund abortion.
Mr Biden’s campaign confirmed he backs the Hyde amendment, a 40-year-old law banning federal funding for abortion other than in cases of incest, rape, or to save the life of the mother.
The official position of the Democrat party, and every other Democrat presidential candidate, is that Hyde should be repealed. They argue the ban prevents the poorest women gaining access to abortions.
Mr Biden has set out a clear strategy of trying to occupy the centre ground in 2020, distancing himself from all of the other two dozen Democrat presidential candidates.
The former vice president led Mr Trump 48-44 in a a Quinnipiac University poll of voters in Texas, where victory in 2020 would virtually guarantee him the White House.
Other polls gave Mr Biden 12-point leads over Mr Trump in the key “rust belt” state of Michigan, and the swing state of North Carolina.
He also had a four-point lead in the usually Republican border state of Arizona. Mr Biden’s stance was lambasted by fellow Democrat candidates Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris, in the biggest collective attack on him since he entered the race in April.
Pro-choice activists called his position “unacceptable” and accused him of being an “out of touch white man.”
Karen Finney, an adviser to Hillary Clinton in 2016, said: “It’s a very fine line he’s trying to walk. There are just places where he is out of step with the party.”
A Trump campaign official said Mr Biden’s stance was the same as that of the US president. Mr Biden, who is Catholic, has previously expressed his personal opposition to abortion, while supporting Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalised it.
His position is one that could help Mr Biden to win Texas, usually the biggest Republican-voting state. Mr Trump won it by nine points in 2016, but that was the smallest margin of victory for a Republican since 1996.
The Quinnipiac poll showed Mr Biden leading 55 per cent to Mr Trump’s 33 per cent among Texas voters classifying themselves as “independent”.
Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown said: “The numbers are good for Biden.” Manny Garcia, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, said the state would become the “focal point” of the 2020 campaign.
He said: “This is our moment. We all know that once Texas goes blue the Republican path to the White House will be blocked.”
However, White House officials remained confident the poll numbers would change once Mr Trump begins campaigning in earnest.
And, despite the early surge for Mr Biden, most Americans still believe Mr Trump will be re-elected. In a CNN poll 54 per cent said they expected the US president to win again in 2020, with only 41 per cent thinking he would not.