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Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo. Photo: Bauzen/GC Images

President Trump's allies still fear a general election matchup against a banged-up Joe Biden more than a run against an invigorated Elizabeth Warren, people close to the president tell Axios.

Driving the news: Warren has surpassed Biden in some primary polls, seemingly helped by the early coverage of Trump's efforts to get Ukraine to investigate conspiracy theories involving Biden and his son Hunter. And a Fox News poll now shows Biden and Warren each would lead Trump, 50% to 40%.

  • Warren's success with small donors, enthusiastic crowds and an instinct for viral moments are giving her an edge in the still-crowded primary contest.
  • Some Democrats also believe her anti-corruption platform, shorter record in politics and relative lack of family baggage could make her more difficult than Biden for Trump to drag through the mud.

Why it matters: Several advisers in Trumpworld told Alayna that Warren is arguably a better candidate in terms of being quick on her feet and prepared on a debate stage. But those advisers say her liberal stances on some issues and her "likeability" problem with segments of general election voters make her weaker against Trump than even a Biden hindered by gaffes, generational dissonances and a son with personal drama and a lobbying record.

  • "He still feels safe," a Trump campaign adviser said of how U.S. voters perceive Biden. The former vice president is not saying "crazy, radical" things and "people think Biden will bring some semblance of normalcy."
  • The president's supporters also insist that Warren would put more states in play than most anyone: "She makes winning Wisconsin a sh*tload easier, and Michigan — are you kidding me?!" a former White House official said.
  • To date, the attack strategy Trump's team has tested most successfully with voters who backed him in 2016 is painting Dem candidates as socialists, and it's a lot easier to stick a socialism tag on Warren than on Biden.

Meanwhile, Trump campaign adviser Brad Parscale has long thought Warren may be the eventual nominee — and privately relishes the notion of running against her.

But, but, but: Analysts and some Democratic strategists say Trump's team may be underestimating Warren's potency.

  • "It’s easy to say Warren is a weaker general election candidate than Biden — but that may not be true," said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of political website Sabato's Crystal Ball. "It may be that Warren better excites Democrats and/or has a populist economic message that is better suited for the moment."

Our thought bubble: Two of Trump's biggest weapons in 2016 were the huge crowds he was turning out — spectacles neither his primary opponents nor Hillary Clinton could conjure — and a fundraising juggernaut from small- and high-dollar donors.

  • But Warren is at the top of the Democratic primary's fundraising field, just behind Bernie Sanders, and has turned out massive crowds at her events.
  • She raised $24.6 million in Q3, and the average contribution to her campaign was $26.
  • More than 20,000 people turned out for her rally in New York’s Washington Square Park last month, a number so high even Trump didn't believe it.
  • Like Trump, many of her policies are populist. Her messaging is centered on looking out for the little guy/gal and appealing to people who feel they’ve been left behind by the government.
  • She’s rising in the polls with moderate and conservative Democratic voters and a lot of people who like the idea of canceling student debt and lifting up the working class at the expense of billionaires.

Meanwhile, a Biden adviser tells Alexi that this assessment "makes sense": "He's attacked Joe Biden with lies and conspiracy theories since the moment he got into this race in April, and Biden's support has remained steadfast and strong. That terrifies Trump."

Go deeper

DOJ announces sweeping probe into Minneapolis policing practices

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday announced that the Justice Department will open a sweeping investigation into whether the Minneapolis Police Department has a "pattern or practice" of discriminatory policing practices.

Why it matters: The federal probe, which will also examine MPD's handling of misconduct allegations against officers, could result in significant changes to policing in Minneapolis in the wake of George Floyd's murder.

1 hour ago - World

South Korean president: Trump "beat around the bush and failed" on North Korea

South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaking in Seoul in March 2021. Photo: Jeon Heon-Kyun/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

South Korean President Moon Jae-in criticized former President Trump's attempts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, telling the New York Times he "beat around the bush" with North Korea and "failed to pull it through."

Why it matters: Moon, now in his final year in office, called denuclearization a "matter of survival" for South Korea and urged President Biden to resume negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un after a standstill of nearly two years.

1 hour ago - World

U.S.-Israel tensions build as Iran talks progress

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Eric Baradat (AFP), Gali Tibbon (AFP)/Getty Images

As nuclear talks in Vienna enter a critical stage, the gaps and suspicions over Iran between the Israeli government and the Biden administration are growing.

Why it matters: Both sides want to avoid the kind of public fight that emerged during the negotiations over the 2015 deal. But in private, there's growing frustration on both sides about the lack of trust, coordination and transparency.