Sen. Bernie Sanders -- the Vermont socialist who has been drawing huge crowds around the country with his attacks on the “billionaire class” and demands for a better economic shake for the middle class -- is surging in the polls and now leads Hillary Clinton in the crucial early battleground state of New Hampshire.
A new Franklin Pierce University/Boston Herald survey of 442 Democratic primary voters shows Sanders leading Clinton, the former secretary of state and first lady, by seven points, 44 percent to 37 percent, with nine percent favoring Vice President Joseph Biden. Remarkably, Sanders trailed Clinton by 37 points in a similar survey back in March.
The conventional wisdom, of course, is that Clinton is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee in 2016 and that Sanders’ extraordinary boom-let will fade once the national campaign really starts to gear up. Clinton has outraised Sanders, $67.8 million to $15.2 million, as of July 31, and she will be well situated to grind out a nomination victory, as long as it takes.
According to the latest Real Clear Politics national polling averages, Clinton leads the Democratic pack with 55 percent of the vote, compared to 19.4 percent for Sanders, 12.3 percent for Biden and 1.6 percent for former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley.
However, a week after putting up the first round of TV ads in New Hampshire and Iowa, Clinton campaign advisers must be wondering just what it will take to halt her slide in the polls in the early primary and caucus states. Clinton is running behind or is on the “wrong side” of a too-close-to-call result in hypothetical matchups with three leading Republican contenders -- Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker -- in Colorado, Iowa and Virginia, according to a Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll released last month.
The controversy over her use of private email while she served as secretary of state and the exorbitant speaking fees that she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, collected for themselves and their family foundation have badly hurt her credibility and approval ratings. Clinton has taken steps in recent days to put the email controversy behind her, but GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has repeatedly suggested that Clinton may have engaged in criminal activity in disposing some of her government email.
What’s more, Biden continues to be a wildcard in the Democratic presidential campaign. There has been a flurry of speculation by The New York Times and other publications that the 72-year-old vice president and former Delaware senator is seriously considering entering the race in the fall. While there is no way of knowing what Biden will finally decide, he might find it irresistible to launch a third and final presidential campaign against a politically wounded Clinton.
And the 73-year-old, white-haired Sanders can’t be dismissed any longer either. While Clinton has attracted respectable-sized crowds since she formally launched her campaign June 13 in New York, the no-frills, straight-talking Sanders has been packing them in throughout the country.
As The Washington Post reported on Tuesday, Sanders addressed an overflow crowd of 27,500 in Los Angeles, 28,000 in Portland, Oregon, 15,000 in Seattle, and 11,000 in Phoenix, while Clinton’s largest crowd to date was about 5,500. Many of those turning out to cheer him on include progressive activists, labor union members and others who are responding to his message of social and economic justice and calls for a government crackdown on Wall Street and higher taxes for the rich.
More than half of New Hampshire’s likely Democratic primary voters said in the Boston Herald survey that they view Sanders “very” favorably. By contrast, only 35 percent of the likely primary voters say they are “excited” about Clinton’s campaign. A little more than half of these voters say they could support Clinton for president, although they expressed little enthusiasm for her candidacy.