August 12, 2015
So Bernie is 7 points ahead of Hillary in the latest New Hampshire poll. Hmmm. What all does this mean?
First, this is probably good news for Hillary.
Once Bernie became a thing, there was always a good chance she would lose New Hampshire. Remember, this is the state that voted for Paul Tsongas in 1992 instead of her husband.
Tsongas was a quirky senator from neighboring Massachusetts. Sanders is a quirky senator from neighboring Vermont.
New Hampshire is not a closed primary state. Independents (who are more common in NH than either Republicans or Democrats) pick their primary to vote in.
This is a huge advantage for insurgent candidates as well as cause of extra volatility. New Hampshire Indepenents like outsider, maverick candidates. Right now, they’re polling for Bernie. In 2000, they helped John McCain shock George W. Bush. In 2012, many voted for Ron Paul.
Sanders is not confined to registered Democrats the way he is in Iowa (Hillary is 20-25 points up there), so this is absolutely the most ideal environment for him.
You have an outsider candidate in an outsider year, with home field advantage and eligible Independent voters. He’s received tons of mostly favorable press and has not yet faced any major investigatory journalism or attack ads.
With all that going for him and Hillary dealing with stories about finally turning her server over to the FBI, he’s up 7.
At 44% in the most recent poll, Sanders is probably near his ceiling. Insurgent anti-Vietnam War candidate Gene McCarthy pulled 42% against LBJ in 1968. Different time, but same place.
The expectations game is the key thing here. If Sanders trailed in the polls for months and then upset Hillary next February, it’s a very big deal. A close second might have shaken everyone up.
LBJ beat McCarthy, but abdicated his attempt at re-election soon after, partially due to the shock at how close the results were.
Four years later in 1972, front-runner Ed Muskie held off liberal insurgent (Sanders is the first Socialist, not the first outsider from the left) George McGovern, but again, the unexpected closeness doomed Muskie.
When Bill Clinton, front-runner until a few weeks before the primary finished a semi-distant second to the implausible Tsongas, he dubbed himself the “Comeback Kid”, and rode the momentum to the next round of primaries.
Whatever happens next February, a Sanders win or close second won’t be a surprise, and Team Hillary has months to remind everyone of Bernie’s local advantage. If Hillary wins, something that would not have registered before would now be cause for celebration.
There are legitimate things for Hillary to worry about. The email thing is a problem. Joe Biden is still a possibility and would take more votes from her than Bernie. The Sanders phenomenon has spread to the West Coast. Bernie drew over 25,000 supporters in LA and unlike some of his other rallies, they weren’t all white.
While Sanders peaking this early in New Hanpshire is mostly advantageous to Hillary, we do need to explore the possibility of Bernie winning the nomination. It’s still a single-digit likelihood, but it’s possible and much more possible than Republicans nominating Donald Trump.
If Biden opts in, his chances improve.
A look at how Bernie could go the distance and why these conditions have developed will follow in the next couple days.