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A.B. Stoddard: Sanders now a threat

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In what now seems a mandatory part of any Clinton campaign, panic has set in. Tied in the Iowa caucuses and decimated in the New Hampshire primary, Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonGary Johnson wins Libertarian nomination Clinton emails dominate Sunday shows Superdelegate sees sexism in criticism of Clinton MORE’s presidential juggernaut has once again veered into a ditch, just like it did eight years ago. 

Even before the votes were totaled in Bernie SandersBernie SandersSnowden mocks Trump for refusing to debate Sanders Clinton emails dominate Sunday shows Sanders supporters up in arms over Puerto Rico polling locations MORE’s historic New Hampshire landslide Tuesday night, reports leaked of staff shake-ups and new advisers to bigfoot and “layer over” those with whom the Clintons have lost confidence. Friends say the message is her problem — strange for someone who has arguably been running for president since 2005. Others worry she cannot overcome her inaccessibility as a candidate, while still others fear her email scandal will ultimately doom her with voters.

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No matter the Clintonian spin, Sanders never had a lock on the Granite State. Not only have Democrats there rescued and reset the campaigns of both Clinton, in 2008, and her husband, in 1992, but two of the most powerful women in the state who serve as senator and governor endorsed Clinton’s bid. Women do well in New Hampshire, and the former first lady’s victory in 2008 resulted from the support of women. On Tuesday, women chose Sanders by 11 points.

Sanders won women under the age of 45 by 40 points and all voters under age 45 by 75 points. The Vermont senator also beat Clinton with liberals, moderates and independent voters by a margin of 3–1. Sanders took voters who care the most about honesty and trustworthiness 91 percent to 5 percent and choose the candidate who “cares about people like me” 82 percent to 17 percent.

Clinton is counting on a firewall in upcoming contests made up of minority voters with whom she currently enjoys a strong polling advantage over Sanders. She plans to campaign with the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, emphasizing gun violence, criminal justice reform and systemic racism. But Sanders is not ceding the African-American vote — he’s already begun a vigorous outreach that highlights those issues, pairing it with an economic message that may appeal to voters disappointed by the Obama administration that Clinton defends but that Sanders has implicitly criticized. Former NAACP President Ben Jealous, who has endorsed Sanders, promised in a tweet Tuesday that black voters are tuning in and will switch to Sanders and that “big endorsements” are on the way.

While Clinton hopes minority voters remain immune to Sanders’s message, she will lean on a family political machine that dates back to 1991. Sanders has more votes so far and funding to take him to the convention, but Clinton has 359 superdelegates to his eight. The former secretary of State also is raising record sums for state parties through a Hillary Victory Fund. The money, in a two-person race Clinton expects to win, will help her general election campaign and bolster Democrats down-ballot as well. What that money does now is make her more popular with state parties, like the one in Iowa where a recount of the caucus results was initially refused by the state party chairwoman, who has reportedly driven around with a license plate that reads “HRC2016.”

Clinton will still likely win her party’s nomination. But it looks like Sanders will turn the primary race into a lengthy and costly grind as questions linger about her ability to appeal to young voters, particularly younger women who seem unmoved by the historic nature of her candidacy as the potential first female president. 

Meanwhile, a judge has asked the State Department, which withheld the last batch of Clinton’s controversial emails, to release them by the end of this month — right around voting in Nevada and South Carolina and before the consequential contests in early March.

It could be a while before this ditch is in the rearview mirror.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.