Fox News has a new national poll out — it shows that Sen. Bernie Sanders gaining on Hillary Clinton,  but Clinton retains a 19-point lead. Of course, take these early national polls with a mammoth grain of salt. 

Fox found 49 percent of likely Democratic voters favored Clinton, with 30 percent supporting Sanders, 10 percent backing the undeclared Vice-President Joe Biden, and a scattering of other candidates notching 1 percent of less (Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, Lincoln Chafee). Clinton’s 19-point lead over Sanders is down from a 29-point lead two weeks ago…but for all of the hand-wringing over the last few weeks, it’s still a pretty commanding position for a front runner. 

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Meanwhile, when you start to look at the state-level polling, while Sanders appears to have a real shot to make New Hampshire competitive or even pull off the upset, Clinton has mammoth leads elsewhere. The primary certainly looks to be more interesting than a coronation, but she’s still by far the best positioned non-incumbent candidate in the modern primary era. 

“You go state by state and you see she is running ahead almost everywhere by 20-40 percentage points,” notes polling whiz Harry Enten of fivethirtyeight. Some have argued that Clinton is vulnerable now just as she was as a frontrunner in 2007-2008, but her current leads represent a massively more commanding position at this stage in the cycle than Clinton had eight years (not just in polls but in money, endorsements, and party support; and of course she faced a dramatically more competitive field in ’08). Enten points out that the latest polling in South Carolina has Clinton at 78 percent; at this date 8 years ago, she was at 36 percent. The latest polling in Alabama has her at 78 percent; eight years ago she was polling at 33 percent in Alabama. 

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She’s also up 20 in Iowa, but those states highlight a particular problem for Sanders: what looks like a ceiling in the South and among black voters. 

Here’s Nate Cohn of the New York Times: 

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Here’s Cohn in a smart piece on the state of the primary

You might not know it if you’re reading the various articles about Mr. Sanders’s rise in the polls, but Mrs. Clinton still holds as strong a position as any primary candidate in history. And oddly, Mr. Sanders and Mr. Biden have helped clarify that strength.

The Sanders surge has slowed over the last month. Yes, a poll out of New Hampshire has him leading Mrs. Clinton. But Iowa and New Hampshire were always going to be his strong spots — just as liberal havens like Seattle and Boulder, Colo., are favorable terrain.

A closer look at the polls shows that he is simply not within striking distance of winning the nomination. His support has run into a wall: Women, blacks and Hispanics continue to support Mrs. Clinton by a wide margin, as do white moderate and conservative Democrats.

Mr. Sanders has become the favorite of one of the Democratic Party’s most important factions: the overwhelmingly white, progressive left. These voters are plentiful in the well-educated, more secular enclaves where journalists roam. This voting support is enough for him to compete in Iowa; New Hampshire and elsewhere in New England; the Northwest; and many Western caucuses. But it is not a viable electoral coalition in a Democratic Party that is far more moderate and diverse than his supporters seem to recognize.

And of course, Clinton has the massive head start of near-universal backing among Party elites and donors: 

Mrs. Clinton’s advantage among the majority of Democratic voters is underpinned by just about all of the forces that help shape public opinion and determine the outcome of primary elections. Her policy views are smack-dab in the middle of the Democratic electorate, denying Mr. Sanders much room to challenge her on the left. She has won the so-called invisible primary, the behind-the-scenes competition for elite support that helps decide the nomination. She has more endorsements and cash than just about any candidate in American history.

Her commanding advantage among party elites has not been shaken by the concerns about her email account. Just ask Joe Biden.

The possibility that Mr. Biden might run for president has led many to imagine that Mrs. Clinton’s sagging support has Democrats on the verge of drafting him into the race. But the reaction from Democratic elites to a possible Biden run has been tepid at best. Major Democratic figures have publicly argued against his candidacy. My colleagues Carl Hulse and Jason Horowitz reported that the skepticism even extends to Mr. Biden’s friends and many Obama 2008 supporters — exactly the sort of people who ought to be most receptive to his candidacy.

Mr. Biden is the party’s natural emergency alarm option. Party leaders aren’t breaking the glass.

Any time I note that Clinton is probably going to be the nominee, someone pops up in the comments to say that I’m in the bag for her as a candidate. This is, for me, funny — my personal feelings about Hillary Clinton as a candidate are much more tepid than such commenters imagine. I’m just stating the obvious truth: she is as close to a lock for the nomination as it gets in politics. Suggesting otherwise is fanciful and silly. 

I suppose the wild card is that something absolutely shocking pops up in the stash of private emails she kept as Secretary of State. That is, well, probably not going to happen. Keeping the private email account, in my view, was an ethical and political mistake. But there just isn’t any evidence that it will amount to real trouble for Clinton’s candidacy. Like many Clinton scandals, the actual wrongdoing doesn’t quite catch up with GOP fever dreams. Here’s Slate’s Jamelle Bouie

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Barring an indictment for criminal behavior, Hillary Clinton, if she’s the Democratic nominee, will not lose the 2016 presidential election because of her emails. To think so, or to think they’ll change the race, is to say that scandal will override partisanship; that an otherwise liberal voter will walk into the ballot booth and mark the box for Jeb Bush or Gov. Scott Walker or Sen. Marco Rubio because of digital mismanagement. I liked what Clinton said about early childcare, thinks our hypothetical voter, but sending government email on a private server makes her unfit for the White House.

As Nate Silver points out, the best comparison to Clinton’s bumpy road isn’t 2007/2008, it’s 1999/2000. Silver flags a Washington Post article from 1999, “Gore’s Advantages Show Signs of Erosion,” which begins, “Five months before the nation’s first primary, former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley has virtually pulled even with Al Gore in New Hampshire, turning a once lopsided advantage for the vice president into a fiercely competitive contest.”  


p.s. I see Ross Douthat echoes these themes in his Sunday New York Times column.