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What Bernie Sanders' New Hampshire Lead Means For Hillary Clinton

Now that he's opened up his first polling lead of this presidential campaign, Bernie Sanders is finally getting some respect from the media
Hillary Bernie

Bernie Sanders and his supporters have a lot to feel good about this week. The independent Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate has been riding a wave of enthusiastic support that has recently crested with several 25,000-plus crowds, and Sanders also appears to have decoded his haywire relationship with Black Lives Matter, releasing a relatively ambitious racial justice platform that has gotten high marks from some activists. Now, Sanders finds himself with a seven-point lead over Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire:

Voters were asked who they would vote for if the Democratic presidential primary were held today. The results indicate that Bernie Sanders has overtaken Hillary Clinton in the contest. Currently, he would receive 44 percent of the vote, compared to 37 percent for Clinton and nine percent for Biden.

It's true that New Hampshire is practically Sanders' home state, and that even respondents to that poll believe Hillary Clinton will be the nominee by a 67-11 margin over Sanders, but Sanders has jumped an unnerving 36 points since March. Even with a 35-point national lead, and a 19-point lead in Iowa, this result helps build the narrative that Bernie Sanders is sneaking up on Hillary Clinton, in much the same way that then-Senator Barack Obama snuck up on her in 2008.

Not helping matters for Hillary is the constant barrage of bad press about her emails (followed by whispered corrections), which have contributed to a parallel narrative that voters have lost trust in her. The release of her private email server this week could help to reverse some of that, but this bit of added pressure from Sanders is inauspiciously timed, to say the least.

So far, Hillary Clinton and her campaign have played an admirably disciplined long game, largely refraining from attacking Bernie Sanders, and resisting pressure from the media to change tactics. It's a far cry from 2008, when Clinton's actual campaign leaked the infamous "Muslim garb" photo of Barack Obama, and Hillary's surrogates (especially Bill) took wild swings at Obama that badly damaged her with black voters. That's not even to mention Hillary's own reckless reactions to the insurgent candidate, including the ill-advised "3 a.m." ad, and her widely-pilloried speculation about assassinations during Democratic primaries.

Those were all the actions of a campaign, and a candidate, unprepared for a challenge, and quick to panic when one is presented. It remains to be seen just how big a threat Bernie Sanders is, but right now, he's no Barack Obama. The only way that Hillary Clinton can really be hurt by Sanders is to hurt herself, perhaps with the same sorts of naked appeals to white voters that hurt her in 2008, and badly damaged her standing with black voters, or perhaps by attacking Sanders in a way that embitters his intensely loyal follwers, whom Hillary will need to defeat Republicans.

It's an encouraging sign that no one from Hillary Clinton's orbit took up the Bernie Sanders rape fantasy essay from his college days. That's a marked bit of progress from a campaign that once literally dredged up a kindergarten essay as oppo research against Obama. Here's hoping the discipline holds.