Helps that they're a private company and won't be ridiculed if things go wrong while any failure of ULA is seen as a massive blow to US prestige itself.You can spin this anyway you want. However, here is what you cannot deny. SpaceX takes the conventional wisdom (which evolved at a time of lesser technology) and then asks whether its accurate, develops their own hypothesis and tests it to destruction. They are not afraid to watch their rockets blow up, fail to perform, have accidents, just so they can learn. In the end, the fail fast approach leads to a better system, quicker and with a new way of doing that.
They do/did all of that on their own dime. Whatever they have been awarded has happened afterwards and because of that. ULA behaves in the opposite manner; they don't design, build, test anything without the subsidy up front. That willingness to spend their own money first is why SpaceX is ahead and will stay that way.
As to whether they're "ahead and will stay that way" that's still an open question. Their heavy lift platform has yet to lift a rated load so until then it's all theoretical.