Clinton World wants to knock Bernie SandersBernie SandersSunday shows preview: Trump sits down with Fox Democrats: Where the hell are You? Sanders on Trump pick: This is how a rigged economy works MORE out of the Democratic presidential race with a resounding win in the Iowa caucuses.
If the threat from Sanders isn’t neutralized by the Feb. 1 caucuses, allies of Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump must not pull a bait-and-switch on American workers Jewish groups divided over Hanukkah party at Trump hotel Colo. AG: Electoral College lawsuit could cause 'chaos' MORE hope to finish off the liberal challenger on March 1, when 12 states hold contests on what’s commonly called Super Tuesday.
The political landscape is different this time around. While Clinton had a rough start earlier this year, dogged by months of negative headlines after it was unearthed that she used her personal email to conduct State Department business as secretary, she rebounded with strong debate performances and widely lauded testimony before the House Benghazi Committee.
Vice President Biden’s decision not to enter the presidential race also helped, strategists say.
“Everything is set up nicely,” said one longtime Democratic strategist who is in touch with the campaign. “There’s always post-traumatic stress disorder because of 2008, so we’re always a little cautious. We’re far from being on autopilot. But we’ve had a good couple of months and there’s been a lot of plateauing in our favor.
“Sanders has had trouble figuring out a new footing,” the strategist added.
The one hurdle the Clinton campaign faces is New Hampshire, where the former first lady and the Vermont senator have been locked in a tight race for months. Clinton could effectively slam the door shut on Sanders with a win there on Feb. 9.
Mitch Stewart, who served as a senior adviser to the Ready for Hillary political action committee and is a veteran of both Obama presidential campaigns, said when it comes to Clinton nailing down the Democratic nomination, “the big question is New Hampshire.”
If she wins, Stewart predicted, it would be “a death blow” to Sanders.
“Does she come out of Iowa with the strength necessary to jump on New Hampshire?” Stewart asked. “New Hampshire could be close, but I don’t see that as a sign of weakness for Clinton.”
Christy Setzer, another Democratic strategist, agreed, saying that a New Hampshire loss “is easily explained and forgiven” because Sanders is from neighboring Vermont and voters there “prefer insurgents to establishment candidates.”
“Al GoreAl GoreComing soon: A sequel to Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth' Democrats: Where the hell are You? How to make climate progress with Trump in the White House MORE nearly lost New Hampshire to Bill Bradley, and in the end, Bradley wasn’t even a credible threat,” Setzer explained. “So long as she seals it up with a South Carolina win right after, a Granite State loss would hardly be a speed bump, let alone a stoplight.”
A spokesman for Sanders did not respond to a request for comment on the campaign’s strategy.
Team Clinton is expecting big wins in other two states with early primary contests, South Carolina and Nevada, according to allies of the former secretary of State. “He hasn’t been an efficient media buyer,” the strategist said of Sanders.
The Democratic strategist close to the campaign was surprised by Sanders’s decision not to make a bigger play thus far for Nevada and doesn’t expect to see any changes in the polls. A CNN-ORC poll in October showed Clinton had the support of 50 percent of Democrats in the state, and that was before Biden’s decision to stay out of the race.
Still, the strategist doesn’t expect Sanders to drop out, even assuming early-state wins by Clinton. For one thing, she won’t have the delegates necessary to lock up the Democratic nomination, leaving Sanders a mathematical chance.
“He’s not like the type of guy who’s going to pack it up,” the strategist said, adding that Sanders can still pick up Super Tuesday states such as Colorado and Minnesota. “He’ll continue to get local and national press where he goes.”
But even if Sanders picks up a few states, he has no real path forward, Stewart and others said.
Stewart compared Sanders’s campaign Howard Dean’s bid in 2004.
Dean, he said, “basically limped through, and the campaign was over.”