Bernie-mania swept through here last night, as more than 7,500 screaming, sign-waving supporters packed a downtown arena — many lining up hours early — for surging Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders…

“In case you didn’t notice, this is a big turnout,” Sanders told the cheering crowd at Cross Insurance Arena. “From Maine to California — we have friends from Alaska and Hawaii as well — the American people understand that establishment politics and establishment economics is not working for America.”…

“Hillary is not bad. It’s just, we all know she is having an excitement problem. We all know that. It’s not a secret,” U.S. Rep. Michael E. Capuano said in a Boston Herald Radio interview yesterday…

“I don’t think she’s my voice anymore — I was hoping she would be,” said Rich Stafford of Salem, Mass. “She’s just too tied into corporate America, too tied in with the banking system, millionaires and billionaires. Her husband’s getting $500,000 to give a speech. How many Americans are in that category?”

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California Rep. Barbara Lee, a key leader of progressive House Democrats, says she believes Bernie Sanders’ candidacy is “galvanizing progressives” and the progressive agenda.

“I know Bernie first as a colleague and as a friend. I did serve with him on the then-Banking Committee and we actually came up with, initially, with the National Housing Trust Fund, worked together on that, and so I’ve worked with him on many, many issues and he’s a friend,” Lee said on the Jeff Santos Show.

“And I think what he is doing really is galvanizing progressives to really develop a strong progressive agenda that deals with all of the issues, that the majority of Americans want to deal with,” she added. “And I think by the turnout and by what the response of the people around the country, we see that his message is resonating and so I think it’s a good thing that he’s out there,” she said.

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“We are worried about him, sure. He will be a serious force for the campaign, and I don’t think that will diminish,” Jennifer Palmieri, the Clinton campaign’s communications director, said Monday in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”…

“I think we underestimated that Sanders would quickly attract so many Democrats in Iowa who weren’t likely to support Hillary,” said one Clinton adviser, who like several others spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly share views about the race. “It’s too early to change strategy because no one knows if Sanders will be able to hold on to these voters in the months ahead. We’re working hard to win them over, but, yeah, it’s a real competition there.”…

“Certainly she could lose Iowa,” said Joe Trippi, a veteran Democratic strategist who managed Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign. If that happened, Mr. Trippi said, “mostly they’d just have to ride out the punditry and people with their hair on fire” and go on to capture the nomination.

Mr. Sanders’s rising fortunes pose a bind for the Clinton team. Directly challenging the senator on his policies and record could elevate his candidacy, alienate some liberal Democrats and make Mrs. Clinton look anxious. Yet continuing the current strategy — vigorously courting voters while hoping they conclude that Mr. Sanders is unelectable — requires Mrs. Clinton to put faith in an Iowa electorate that snubbed her seven years ago, choosing Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards over her.

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In a memo this week to state, central and area divisions of the labor federation, and obtained by POLITICO, the AFL-CIO chief [Richard Trumka] reminded the groups that its bylaws don’t permit them to “endorse a presidential candidate” or “introduce, consider, debate, or pass resolutions or statements that indicate a preference for one candidate over another.” Even “‘personal’ statements” of candidate preference are verboten, Trumka said.

The memo comes amid signs of a growing split between national union leaders — mindful of the fact that Clinton remains the undisputed favorite for the nomination — and local officials and rank and file, who are increasingly drawn to the Democratic Party’s growing progressive wing, for whom Sanders is the latest standard-bearer.

The South Carolina and Vermont AFL-CIOs have passed resolutions supporting Sanders, and some local AFL-CIO leaders in Iowa want to introduce a resolution at their August convention backing the independent senator from Vermont. More than a thousand labor supporters, including several local AFL-CIO-affiliated leaders, have signed on to “Labor for Bernie,” a group calling on national union leaders to give Sanders a shot at an endorsement.

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“Look, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and the other Democrats in D.C., they’re for socialism. They just — they’re not as honest as Bernie is,” said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show last week. “Did you honestly believe we would live to see the day when a guy, an honest-to-goodness socialist, is running for president and doing — he got 10,000 people in Wisconsin to come hear him speak, he’s gaining on Hillary in the polls? This shows you how radical the Democratic Party is.”…

And that’s making many Democrats nervous, said Joe Trippi, who ran Vermonter Howard Dean’s campaign in 2004.

“We can’t lose the presidency. We can’t take a risk by nominating somebody outside the comfort zone. That’s what’s driving the inevitable-ness” of Clinton, said Trippi, speaking about the party establishment’s thinking…

“Bernie is saying what he believes. He’s unlikely to run for president again, and this is his shot … This is as unfiltered and as clear as it comes,” said liberal labor economist Robert Reich, who compared Sanders to past Democratic candidates like Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern.

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Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders undermined a key Obama administration talking point Monday when he said the actual unemployment rate in the U.S. is double what the federal government claims…

“Once a month the government publishes a set of figures, and the last figures they published said that official unemployment was 5.4 percent,” the Democratic nominee continued, slightly misstating the Labor Department’s most recent report which put June’s unemployment rate at 5.3 percent.

“But there is another set of government statistics,” Sanders continued, “and that that real unemployment if you include those people who have given up looking for work and the millions of others who are working part-time 20, 25 hours a week when they want to work full-time, when you all of that together, real unemployment is 10.5 percent.”

That dose of reality is like a wet blanket on President Obama’s recent claims that the economy is improving.

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Sanders probably would be a problematic general-election candidate. But the liberals flocking to his side don’t much care. Nor are the Clintonites likely to scare off many liberals by reminding them that Sanders is a socialist. Most of them already know. And far from hiding it, Sanders is quite effective when challenged on this point. Right after he jumped in the race, George Stephanopoulos gave Sanders exactly the treatment McCaskill is calling for now. First, he reminded Sanders he was a socialist. Then, when Sanders pointed to Scandinavia as his socialist model, Stephanopoulos snarked that, “I can hear the Republican attack ad right now: He wants America to be look more like Scandinavia.” But Sanders was not cowed. “That’s right. That’s right,” he replied. “And what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong when you have more income and wealth equality? What’s wrong when they have a stronger middle class in many ways than we do?” It was the kind of performance more likely to leave liberals inspired than alienated…

The specifics McCaskill offered [of how Sanders differs from Hillary] were that Sanders “would like to see Medicare for all in this country, have everybody have a government-insurance policy,” that “he would like to see expansion of entitlement,” and that “he is someone who is frankly against trade.”

If Hillary actually goes after Sanders on these specifics, the Democratic race will get very interesting very fast. A debate about Obamacare versus single-payer health insurance, about expanding Social Security versus restraining its growth, and about the merits of free trade would be fascinating. But I doubt it’s a debate Hillary wants to have. She is, after all, running a campaign based on generating enthusiasm among the party’s liberal core. By taking bold, left-leaning positions on immigration, criminal justice, and campaign-finance reform, she’s trying (and so far succeeding) to erase her reputation from 2008 as a timid triangulator unwilling to offer big change. Yet the more Hillary emphasizes her opposition to single-payer health care, her opposition to expanding Social Security, and her support for free trade, the more she undermines her own strategy. By taking on Sanders on these issues, Hillary also implicitly takes on Elizabeth Warren, who has made expanding Social Security and opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership two of her recent crusades.

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Is Bernie Sanders the political reincarnation of Eugene McCarthy? I doubt it, but let’s hope he makes the Democratic presidential race interesting.

I don’t know if front-runner Hillary Clinton shares my wish, but she ought to. I’m not of the school that believes competition for competition’s sake is always a good thing. But Sanders has an appeal for younger, more liberal, more idealistic Democrats that Clinton presently lacks. If she competes for these voters — and learns to connect with them — she will have a much better chance of winning the White House…

This time, Clinton is the candidate with history on her side. The fact that she could be the first woman elected president is not enough, by itself, to win her the nomination. But it does matter. She, like Obama, offers voters the chance to feel a sense of accomplishment.

And nothing about Clinton’s past remotely compares with the millstone of Vietnam that weighed LBJ down and ultimately caused him to give up. I just don’t see a McCarthy scenario brewing — or an Obama scenario, either. 

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Sanders is a fascinating candidate with a vital, underrepresented message in American politics. But the same qualities that make him unique—relative independence from the Democratic Party, a foundational critique of American politics—make him unsuited for a major party nomination, much less the Democratic one. The more moderate and conservative parts of the Democratic coalition won’t support a left-wing candidate like Sanders, and the more strategic voters—party stalwarts like black Americans—will be skeptical that Sanders could win the White House, even if they agree with his ideas and policies…

Sanders won’t be the Democratic nominee. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be important. Here, it’s useful to think of Ron Paul, the former Republican representative who ran for the GOP nomination in 2008 and 2012. Paul drew large crowds and raised huge sums for his campaign but couldn’t translate that success into votes. Nonetheless, his splash mattered. He helped bridge the divide between libertarians and the Republican right, and he inspired a new group of conservative and libertarian activists who have made a mark in the GOP through Paul’s son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

If Sanders can sustain and capture the left-wing enthusiasm for his campaign, he could do the same for progressives. He could bring their issues onto a presidential debate stage and into the Democratic mainstream, and bring them into the process itself. No, Democrats won’t change overnight, but with time and effort, the Sanders revolution could bear real fruit.

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