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Commentary: As Biden bails on N.H., Dems ask: Who'll Stop Bernie?

MLK Day 2020 Sanders (copy)

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to thousands gathered at the South Carolina Statehouse for the annual King Day at the Dome rally on Jan. 20. John A. Carlos II/Special to The Post and Courier

They won’t say it on the record, but many New Hampshire supporters of Joe Biden are laying the groundwork for a likely defeat in the Granite State, as Bernie Sanders surges in the polls.

A new ARG poll giving Sanders a massive 15-point lead over the former vice president in New Hampshire is the seventh consecutive poll with a first-place Sanders finish. And Sanders is leading in three of the four most recent polls in Iowa as well.

Meanwhile, Politico is reporting that Biden’s not bothering to run ads in New Hampshire, has stopped answering questions from voters and has one of the smallest campaign footprints in the state of any major candidate. Politico quotes a Biden spokeswoman celebrating the fact that he’s “polling within the top three.”

“Despite the fact that there are two neighboring state senators who should be running away with the New Hampshire primary, Joe Biden has received almost every single major New Hampshire endorsement and is regularly polling within the top three,” Biden’s New Hampshire spokeswoman, Meira Bernstein, said. Not a sentiment to inspire confidence in the Granite State.

Insiders say the notion Biden is abandoning New Hampshire is “nonsense.” They follow up by insisting that winning the state isn’t vital for their candidate. “It’s a New England contest,” one Biden supporter said. “He just has to do well.”

Quite a comedown for the former vice president and national frontrunner who was at the top of the RealClearPolitics average in New Hampshire just weeks ago.

“Biden has to win Iowa in order to win New Hampshire, and right now it looks like he’s losing both,” one longtime N.H. Democrat, who’s not supporting either candidate, told InsideSources.

Some Biden supporters are already spinning a Biden defeat as no big deal. “Biden’s running second to Sanders in New Hampshire. Well, Bill Clinton came in second and that made him the ‘Comeback Kid,’ ” South Carolina Democratic State Sen. Dick Harpootlian told InsideSources. “Bernie’s like a favorite son. He’s from Vermont and he’s won there once already. If Biden comes in second behind Bernie, that still sets him up well for South Carolina.

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“And Joe Biden is going to win South Carolina — period.”

Or put another way, he’s going to lose New Hampshire. So what does that mean for the rest of the race? “If Sanders wins Iowa, I think he’s likely to win New Hampshire and he might even go on to win Nevada,” veteran Democratic strategist Bob Shrum told InsideSources. “Will that begin to erode Biden’s position in South Carolina? Will people begin saying ‘you know, he’s not really a winner.’ ”

Shrum, director of USC Dornsife’s Center for the Political Future, says that if Sanders really does roll up the early wins as polls indicate he might, the real winner could be former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “If Sanders emerges as a leading candidate, then Bloomberg becomes very real on Super Tuesday as the alternative to Sanders. If Pete Buttigieg could pull an upset win in Iowa, he could be the alternative. But right now the person best positioned to become the Sanders alternative is probably Bloomberg.”

Bloomberg isn’t competing in New Hampshire and his name isn’t even on the ballot. Interestingly, he bought ads on the New Hampshire ABC-TV affiliate in Manchester, anyway. Why?

“Because he can,” laughed Shrum.

Shrum was also quick to point out, as many Democrats have, that the polls in Iowa are tight and that the caucus system makes polling more difficult than in a primary state. What happens when Biden comes out of the four early contests with a 1-3 record, while Sanders has swept every state except South Carolina?

“No one was ever elected president in modern times without winning Iowa or New Hampshire until [Bill Clinton] did,” one Democratic insider told InsideSources regarding Biden’s struggles. “The rules are the rules until they aren’t the rules. Welcome to 2020.”

Michael Graham is politics editor for InsideSources.com.

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