In one quote, Hillary Clinton shows how Bernie Sanders has upended the 2016 race

With Sanders in the race, the Democratic nomination fight is a contest to be America's next top progressive

By Sophia Tesfaye

Published July 6, 2015 6:04PM (EDT)

  (AP/Jacquelyn Martin/Reuters/Carlo Allegri/Photo montage by Salon)
(AP/Jacquelyn Martin/Reuters/Carlo Allegri/Photo montage by Salon)

Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' recent rise appears to have gained the attention of frontrunner Hillary Clinton who just promised to not abandon her recent drift to the left.

Clinton assured a crowd at a Dartmouth College cookout this weekend, including some Sanders supporters donning campaign gear, that she is the most progressive candidate in the 2016 race. “I take a backseat to no one when you look at my record in standing up and fighting for progressive values,” Clinton said. Although the prohibitive favorite never mentioned Sanders by name, it's clear her campaign has taken notice of Sanders' recent surge.

According to Politico, "Clinton’s team has been lowering expectations in New Hampshire," quoting the New Hampshire co-chair of both President Clinton's campaigns, Terry Shumaker, who noted that the Vermont senator's proximity to the Granite State has caused the Clinton campaign to ramp up it's efforts on the ground, "It is easy for Sen. Sanders to travel here ... I can’t even remember canvassing in late June for a primary eight months away, but we were doing it last Saturday, and Hillary is in New Hampshire today and tomorrow."

And in an interview with MSNBC's "Morning Joe" this morning, Clinton campaign Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri hardly belittled the so-called Sanders surge, acknowledging that his rising popularity has garnered attention in Clinton campaign headquarters, “we are worried about him, sure. He will be a serious force for the campaign, and I don’t think that will diminish.”

Palmieri expanded the sphere of Sanders' reach, arguing, “it's to be expected that Sanders would do well in a Democratic primary, and he’s going to do well in Iowa in the Democratic caucus."

But Palmieri distanced herself from the route chosen by Clinton ally and Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill (D) during her recent "Morning Joe" interview when she called Sanders "too liberal to win." Palmieri instead told host Joe Scarborough, “we don’t need to attack each other. He'll run his campaign, we'll run ours. The imperatives for us are different. We think what works for her, particularly in Iowa, is doing a lot of small events, staying a long time, being one of the past people, if not the last person, to leave the room. That works better for us right now.”

Clinton, who will sit down for her first TV interview of the campaign tomorrow with CNN's Brianna Keiler, promised to delve into "specific policies" related to the economy starting in the next 10 days.

But at the Dartmouth event it was clear that Clinton intended to remain focused on her recent focus on guns and race relations for at least the next few days. In what appeared to be a veiled swipe at Sanders who has recent rise has drawn increased scrutiny and criticism on his gun control record, Clinton said, “we have to take on the gun lobby one more time." Clinton called it the “height of irresponsibility not to talk about it.”

Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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2016 Elections Bernie Sanders Democratic Party Hillary Clinton Progressives The Left