Just in Time, Bernie Getting in Tune With Hillary

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The two former rivals are finally singing from the same hymnal.Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Bernie Sanders’s initial efforts on behalf of his former primary rival Hillary Clinton were not, at least in my opinion, very impressive; they made it sound like electing Clinton president was an unpleasant but necessary chore to get out of the way before his “political revolution” could resume.

Now Sanders is back on the trail not just on Clinton’s behalf but by her side, beginning with an appearance in New Hampshire last night. And his message is significantly more focused on her agenda, and not just as an afterthought. It helped that their speeches at the University of New Hampshire concentrated on a topic on which they’ve always been close and now have a jointly endorsed proposal: college tuition relief. But they sounded much more like teammates working together than former antagonists forced to combine forces against a common enemy.

Bernie’s new assistance to Clinton comes at a good time and place. As Sasha Issenberg and Steven Yaccino explain in the latest installment of their very granular look at battleground states, New Hampshire is prominent in a tier of northern states where former Sanders supporters are central to Clinton’s potential margin of victory.

35,717 [New Hampshire] independents … voted in the 2016 Democratic primary but didn’t vote in 2008—a good indicator of the type of Sanders backer who might not be compelled by party loyalty to rally behind the woman who beat him for the nomination …
[T]hese Berniependents represent eight percent of the total expected votes Clinton will need to win the state, a figure well larger than the margin in most current polls (though not all of them will turn out). In Durham, where Clinton and Sanders have scheduled their joint appearance, Berniependents are equal to more than one out of five Democratic primary voters.

Issenberg and Yaccino go on to show that Sanders “holdouts” are also a problem for Clinton in Minnesota and Wisconsin, states where she has led in every poll but not always by comfortable margins. A joint Clinton-Sanders appearance at the University of Wisconsin, for example, could do a lot to put that state away.

Aside from targeted campaigning, a sharpening of the Sanders message for Clinton, which seemed to be developing in New Hampshire, would be helpful just about everywhere. His new rap about the consequences of a Donald Trump victory, which makes sitting out the election a great moral error, is pretty strong. He might want to add in some reminders of the kind of world Libertarians like Gary Johnson want to build, where, yeah, you can smoke weed, but you’re totally on your own in facing life’s vicissitudes.

In any event, it seems the bad feelings and genuine differences of opinion of the 2016 Democratic primaries are finally fading to the point where Bernie Sanders is an indispensable asset for Clinton. If the race stays close, it could matter a lot.