There are signs that the race for the Democratic presidential nomination is heating up. As Bernie Sanders rises in many early polls, his economic agenda is drawing the fire of some of Hillary Clinton's supporters.
It's been five weeks since Bernie Sanders formally launched his presidential campaign in Burlington, calling for a "political revolution to transform our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally." Since that time, Sanders has surprised many political observers by drawing huge crowds in New Hampshire, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
This growing popularity can also be seen in Sanders' rise in the polls. In May, Hillary Clinton enjoyed a 34-point lead in New Hampshire but a recent poll showed her with just an 8-point margin over Sanders.
This development could be one of the reasons why some of Clinton's supporters have started to criticize Sanders.
Recently, Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill went on a cable TV talk show to describe Sanders' economic agenda as being "extreme."
"I think the media is giving Bernie a pass right now. I very rarely read in any coverage of Bernie that he's a socialist,” she says. “I think he would like to see Medicare for all in this country. He would like to see an expansion of entitlements … he is not worried about a debt at all."
Sanders says his socialist affiliation has been well chronicled by the press. "I find it surprising that she says the media doesn't refer to me as a socialist. There's no article that I've seen that doesn't refer to me as a democratic socialist. I am,” says Sanders.
And Sanders says he's surprised that a fellow senator would make these kinds of comments about him. “To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that a colleague has attacked me. You'll have to ask Senator McCaskill why,” he says.
Sen. Patrick Leahy announced months ago that he would be supporting Hillary Clinton. But Leahy says he's disappointed by McCaskill's comments. "I think it's unfair to attack Bernie Sanders and call him names or anything else,” says Leahy. “The thing is, Bernie Sanders has been totally consistent in his politics as long as I've known him and I think he deserves admiration for that."
University of Vermont political science professor Garrison Nelson thinks the Clinton campaign is beginning to "panic" about how to respond to Sanders' surging popularity. "Bernie is a threat,” says Nelson. “Not because of what constituency Bernie has, but because Bernie basically brings a contrast to Hillary that is very difficult for her to overcome."
Nelson says the issue differences between Sanders and Clinton should become very apparent when the candidates hold their first campaign debate later this summer.