WASHINGTON — Unimaginable at the start of the campaign, Bernie Sanders might be a stronger general-election candidate for the Democrats than Hillary Clinton.

He leads Donald Trump nationally by 20 points right now in a hypothetical general-election matchup, more than double her 9-point lead, according to the latest McClatchy-Marist poll.

He leads Sen. Ted Cruz by 12, while she is locked in a tie with the Texan.

Sanders also leads or competes better in places where Democratic presidential candidates often seem invisible. He leads Trump in Kansas and Utah, for example, which haven’t given their electoral votes to a Democrat since 1964. Sanders outperforms Clinton over Trump in the swing states of Arizona, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin, as well.

And underlining all that: The independent senator from Vermont energizes and excites younger voters, he’s not dogged by an FBI investigation into use of a private email server and his anti-establishment message is perfectly pitched to the key of 2016.

That’s not to say that would last.

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So far, Sanders has largely escaped serious criticism from Clinton, the news media or Republicans. “Right now Hillary Clinton is the focus of all evil in the world for Republicans and Democrats,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

But he is scoring as a potentially better champion for the Democrats, at least right now.

“People see Trump as a disaster,” said Dan Jones, president of a Salt Lake City-based firm that conducts Utah polls. And people have never warmed there to Clinton. Meanwhile, he said, “they see the enthusiasm for Sanders on TV; his enthusiasm for America.”

 


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