Veteran Democrats and some Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonDNI official challenges reports of low morale in intelligence community Why the GOP cannot sweep its Milo scandal under the rug Dems worry too much about upsetting others. That needs to stop. MORE supporters say the media’s thirst for a competitive contest has led it to overplay the rise of Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders: 'If you don't have the guts to face your constituents,' you shouldn't be in Congress President Trump, immigrants are not 'bad dudes' Why the GOP cannot sweep its Milo scandal under the rug MORE.
They acknowledge that Sanders is running strong in Iowa and New Hampshire – the first two states to vote, but say that is largely because the predominantly white progressive electorates are tailor-made for his candidacy.
Clinton supporters and strategists outside her orbit say that makes her fully capable of absorbing losses in the first two states and then steamrolling Sanders when the contest moves to more diverse places.
“It's a media driven story because reporters want an exciting race,” said one former senior Obama administration official, who is neutral. “They want to recreate the 2008 campaign but let's face it, it's not.”
Ironically, just weeks ago it was Sanders supporters who were complaining about the media.
At the time, Clinton appeared to have pulled away from Sanders, and his campaign complained about a “Bernie blackout.”
Since then, the media narrative has shifted to Sanders’s rise and whether Clinton is set for repeat of her 2008 failure against then-Sen. Barack Obama.
“Look, I don’t think most Democrats want this to be handed to someone, they’d prefer it be a fight, and the same thing goes for the media,” said former Obama campaign official Bill Burton, who founded a super-PAC that is supporting Clinton in 2016.
“That doesn’t take anything away from Bernie, who has run a good campaign,” Burton said. “But you look at the calendar and you look at the delegate math and you have to conclude that Hillary is well-positioned to be the nominee and that Bernie’s run will come to an end.”
To be sure, the Sanders campaign and its supporters have a different view of things.
Victories in Iowa and New Hampshire would significantly change the race, they say, and lead minority voters in Nevada and South Carolina to give him a second look.
“If he wins those first two the momentum could be enough to change things dramatically in his favor,” said Jonathan Metcalf, a veteran of Obama’s campaigns in South Carolina, who is unaffiliated. “Can he pull it all together? I don’t know. But his side has the energy, so South Carolina isn’t locked down for Clinton by any stretch.”
Sanders attracts thousands of supporters to his rallies; he’s raised tens of millions of dollars; and he has a become a pop culture phenomenon with a strong appeal to young voters.
That makes his campaign sound familiar to Obama’s rise in 2008.
Some political veterans doubt Sanders can build on any momentum because of problematic delegate math.
A Cook Political Report analysis released this month determined that because of Clinton’s substantial lead among super-delegates, Sanders will have to far outpace Clinton in states where he’s currently the underdog just to make up the difference.
“Bernie is running way behind and will have to trounce Clinton if he’s going to accumulate enough delegates to beat her at the convention,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon, who is unaffiliated.
According to the model put together by the Cook Political Report, Sanders would need to win 70 percent of the delegates in Iowa to be on track to match Clinton. That seems unlikely in a race that is headed down to the wire.
He would also need to win a majority of delegates in Nevada, which has a heavy Hispanic population that would seem to play into Clinton’s favor, and run nearly even with her in South Carolina, where Clinton is the heavy favorite.
In addition, all of the estimated 350 remaining super-delegates would need to back Sanders over Clinton just for the two candidates to fight to a tie.
In 2008, President Obama bested Clinton by capitalizing on support from minorities and by cagily outmaneuvering her campaign in the race for delegates.
Clinton has adopted Obama's 2008 strategy, emulating parts of his playbook, when it comes to Iowa. And she has some of his key advisers on her team: Joel Benenson and John Anzalone, two pollsters who worked for Obama in 2008. And political observers believe this will give her a key advantage.
Still, Democrats insist the conventional wisdom could flip if Sanders can cut into Clinton’s support among minorities.
The delegate issue will resolve itself in Sanders’s favor if that’s the case, Democrats say, because delegates already pledged to Clinton will abandon her amid the shifting terrain.
“Super-delegates are just politicians,” said Democratic strategist Steve McMahon, who is unaffiliated. “They follow the voters.”
But McMahon, like most Democrats, still expects Clinton’s support among minority voters will “grind Bernie down and win her the nomination.”
“The only question is how long that will take,” McMahon said.