— -- Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has opened up his widest lead yet over rival Hillary Clinton in the crucial state of New Hampshire, according to a new poll released Tuesday.
The new WMUR/CNN poll out this afternoon shows the Vermont lawmaker with a whopping 27-point lead over the former Secretary of State -- 60-33 percent. That’s a climb of 10 percentage points for Sanders since mid-December and a drop of 7 points for Clinton. It marks Sanders’ highest support and widest lead in any poll in any state so far. His popularity in the state is also sky-high, earning a 91 percent favorability rating among Democrats there.
The shift comes despite the Clinton campaign waging an all-out blitz on the Granite State since the New Year.
"While Senator Sanders tries to make a case on electability based on meaningless polls, Republicans and their super PACs have made clear the candidate they’re actually afraid to face," said Jen Palmieri, Clinton's communications director. "Both Sanders and the Republicans know that Hillary is the candidate who can take them on and ensure the White House isn’t in Donald Trump or Ted Cruz’s hands.”
In addition to a full slate of town halls, rallies and organizing events, Clinton has deployed high-profile surrogates like actress Lena Dunham, U.S. soccer star Abby Wambach, Sen. Al Franken and women’s tennis legend Billy Jean King – along with daughter Chelsea and former President Bill Clinton, who made several stops along the Vermont border where Sanders is most popular.
"This poll suggests that our campaign has real momentum and that the American people want to go beyond establishment politics and establishment economics. But it’s just a poll and we take nothing for granted,” said Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ national campaign manager.
Other recent New Hampshire polling showed Sanders in a statistical tie with Clinton in a poll last week from NBC/WSJ, but Clinton hasn’t led in polls there since early August. The two candidates are neck-and-neck in the critical state of Iowa, but Clinton hold double-digit leads nationally.
On the ground in New Hampshire, Sanders has relied on lesser luminaries like Ben & Jerry’s founder Ben Cohen to spread his message in the state, though climate change advocate Bill McKibben will appear with Sanders at New Hampshire events later this week.
“Right now, Democrats are wondering whether to follow their heads or their hearts,” said Russell Muirhead, an associate professor of government at Dartmouth College. “Their heads are very clearly saying vote for Clinton. That’s a responsible vote. But their hearts are saying vote for Bernie.”
That calculus could change, he told ABC News, if polls present a more viable general election outlook for Sanders.
“There are a ton of people up here who want to vote for him, but won’t because they think he’ll lose,” said Muirhead. “And that I think has capped his support. They don’t think he’ll be an effective candidate in October or November. And if that’s changing, if they think he can be an effective candidate, that creates a new limit – a much higher limit.”