Sen. Bernie Sanders' poll numbers have been ratcheting upwards in recent weeks, to the point where pundits are now seriously speaking about the possibility of the Vermont senator, a self-proclaimed socialist, beating Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.
Could he actually pull it off, denying Clinton the nomination for a second time since 2008? The answer is yes, but it will require several things to happen first.
First off, Sanders needs to have an extremely strong showing in Iowa and New Hampshire, as Cleveland.com notes. In Iowa he needs to either win or come in second by a narrow margin. And in New Hampshire, he is beating Clinton by 27 percentage points among primary voters, according to Business Insider, so anything less than a win there will likely be disappointing.
Wins or close-wins in those states will be needed for him to have any kind of viable campaign following the New Hampshire primary. Following thse initial contests he faces challenges in Nevada and South Carolina, states in which the senator currently trails Clinton.
He will need to establish new alliances with black and Latino voters who overwhelmingly back Clinton, particularly in the South. This will possibly be the most difficult part of the primary, and Sanders has recently been working to try to crack the "firewall" in Clinton's southern support.
Sanders also needs to have an extremely strong showing nationwide in order to advance to the next step of the primary, and he will need the support of superdelegates to win the nomination, Cleveland.com notes. So-called superdelegates are a big factor in presidential elections: Roughly 30 percent of the 2,382 votes needed to win the Democratic nomination come from these people. While Clinton currently has 359 superdelegates supporting her, Sanders only has eight. This could change, but only if Sanders shows he can win primaries beyond Iowa and New Hampshire.
Voter anger and a desire to punish the 'political establishment' has sustained candidates like Sanders and Donald Trump in this election cycle. While these candidates' abilities to turn anger into votes have yet to be revealed to us, we are clearly not in a regular election cycle.
Americans may end up electing an 'establishment' candidate in November 2016, but the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries open up an opportunity for the self-proclaimed socialist to win the Democratic nomination. It is still a long-shot, but it is much less of one than it was just one month ago. Bernie Sanders' ability to win elections should not be underestimated.