One of the goals of President Obama’s State of the Union last night was to emphasize liberal issues, such as gun control, that could ease Hillary Clinton’s path to the White House.
But first she’s got to win the Democratic nomination, and for the first time in this contest, the mainstream media are considering the possibility that this isn’t a slam dunk.
The media’s conventional wisdom has long been that Hillary might stumble in an early state or two, but she was still a virtual lock to be the nominee. But suddenly the punditry, fueled by recent polls, is starting to shift, with news organizations now at least considering the possibility that this is a real race.
The Bernie phenomenon, overshadowed by the Trump phenomenon, hasn’t really gotten its full due in the media. And Bernie agrees, having recently ripped the corporate media for giving his campaign a tiny fraction of the attention that The Donald gets.
He has a point. Although Sanders has been on the cover of Time, the press has largely underplayed the fact that he’s drawing huge crowds, raised $73 million last year and is exciting the liberal grass roots. And the reason is simple: Virtually no one in the punditry universe believes that Sanders can win the nomination.
But now come a spate of eye-catching polls. A new Monmouth survey has Sanders leading Clinton by 14 points in New Hampshire, on the heels of a Fox poll giving him a 13-point lead.
Well, the prognosticators have long expected that Sanders, from neighboring Vermont, would probably take New Hampshire. But now comes a Quinnipiac poll showing Sanders with a 5-point edge in Iowa.
Now it’s true that Clinton has a much bigger advantage as the contest moves to bigger states, where Sanders would not get many minority votes and her union backing would definitely help. But if the heavily favored Hillary Clinton goes 0 for 2 in the first two contests, would that create a media explosion and seriously wound her candidacy?
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza says that “would be a total nightmare for Clinton. Period. It’s also a lot more likely to go from fantasy to reality than most people — including most establishment Democrats — understand.”
That’s why Hillary has stopped treated Bernie as a nuisance and has sharpened her attacks. In an Iowa appearance, she said there is a “big difference on guns” between her and Sanders: “If you say stand up to special interests, then stand up to the gun lobby.”
And it’s hard to believe that Clinton’s proposal yesterday to slap a 4 percent income tax surcharge on those earning more than $5 million a year wasn’t influenced by Sanders’ soak-the-rich campaign.
Sanders, who has avoided attacking Clinton personally, has been pushing back, accusing her of running a “panicky” campaign.
Most journalists concluded that Sanders wasn’t serious after the first Democratic debate, when he took a key issue off the table by saying he was “sick” of hearing about her damn emails. The media have pretty much treated him like Larry David ever since.
Clinton is still the overwhelming favorite. But for the first time in many months, the press is questioning whether she might be derailed—and someone else drawn into the race. I’m sure it was just a coincidence that Joe Biden just said that Bernie, not Hillary, has long been fighting against income inequality.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.