Opinion writer
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders at the January debate in Charleston, S.C. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

Democrats have been deluding themselves for months. Hillary Clinton, they say, remains the “overwhelming favorite.” Really? Over the past couple of weeks we have seen that her legal problems are significant but that her political predicament is worse.

In poll after poll there are signs that the momentum is with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). A Fox News national poll has Sanders ahead by three percentage points, while Clinton’s lead in Nevada is now within the margin of error, according to the RealClearPolitics average. The most recent polls show Sanders ahead by seven points in Massachusetts and by six in Colorado. Clinton remains more than 20 points up in South Carolina, but that may change if she manages to lose Nevada on Saturday.

The AP-GfK poll reports:

Among Democratic voters, 72 percent now think he could win in a general election, up from 51 percent who said so in December. Six in 10 say he’s at least somewhat decisive, after half said so in the earlier poll. And 64 percent call him at least somewhat competent, after 55 percent said so in December.

Sanders is also more likely to be viewed as very or somewhat honest than he was in December. Now, 64 percent say so, up from 56 percent. That gives him an edge over Clinton on that measure. She’s viewed as honest by 55 percent of Democratic voters. Forty-three percent of Democratic voters say that word describes her only slightly or not at all well. [Emphasis added.]

Simply put, the more Clinton campaigns, the less people like her; the more Sanders campaigns, the more people like him. Honesty and trustworthiness have plenty to do with Clinton’s troubles, but there is more to it than that.

First, her cries that Sanders’s “numbers don’t add up” are akin to Jeb Bush telling Donald Trump his ideas make no sense. Both charges are true, but in both cases the electorate does not seem to mind. In both parties, the rebel outsider with outlandish views is not viewed as so outlandish by a large segment of the party.

Second, Clinton is agreeing that things are bad — and she’ll do more of the same. Voters, for good reason, do not view her as a “change agent.” And while Democratic voters may still like the president, they don’t like the economy (especially the inequality) he will leave behind. Clinton has never found a comfortable balance between praising him and acknowledging that there is a need to depart from his agenda.

And sure enough, as Clinton teeters on the brink of collapse, Vice President Biden pops up. “I think both Hillary and Bernie are basically on the same page, with different emphasis, on college, Wall Street, the 1%, civil rights, etcetera,” he said in an interview. “What I don’t think they’re spending enough time doing is pushing back on the story line that what we did to get us to this point was a failure and a mistake.” He mused that all the smart people in their campaigns must not believe a positive message sells.

You can read Biden as reminding voters he stands at the ready should Clinton stumble (or get indicted). Alternatively, you can take his comments as an honest assessment of Clinton’s problems. She wants to be the change agent and be loyal to the president. She wants to run for the third term, but not really. She lacks a compelling vision, in essence, a reason beyond gender to vote for her.

It was unthinkable only weeks ago that Clinton could lose in Nevada. If she does, Biden should come up with a stump speech. There will be a lot of mainstream Democrats pleading with him to get out on the hustings.