Bernie Sanders
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at a news conference in the U.S. Capitol on June 11, 2015. Reuters

A former senior adviser to 2016 U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said Sunday the public “shouldn’t be surprised” in the event Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., were to score an upset victory in the Democratic Party’s New Hampshire primary election in February. Clinton and Sanders were the only two candidates in the party to garner significant in a recent poll of potential New Hampshire primary voters.

“Bernie is from a neighboring state. We shouldn’t be surprised that there is so much enthusiasm for him. In fact, we shouldn’t be surprised if he does very well in New Hampshire or in Iowa and perhaps even wins,” Democratic strategist Maria Cardona said during an appearance on ABC News’ “This Week” Sunday. Cardona served as a senior adviser to the Hillary Clinton for President campaign in 2008.

A Suffolk University poll of likely voters in the New Hampshire primary conducted this month found 41 percent supported Clinton and 31 percent supported Sanders. The next closest candidate, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, had the support of just 7 percent of those surveyed.

“Ultimately, as a Hillary supporter, I think she will be the nominee,” Cardona said. “But she will be that much better a nominee and that much better a general-election candidate because of Bernie.”

Sanders, 73, is a self-described socialist who has held Vermont’s junior Senate seat as an independent since 2007. Considered one of the Senate’s most liberal members, he is running on a platform that includes calls for tax reform, increased workers’ rights and a strong stance against Wall Street. The Sanders campaign has a large base of support on social media, and it raised $1.5 million in the 24 hours after he announced his candidacy, the Hill reported.

Sanders has been critical of Clinton’s comparatively moderate economic policies and vowed this month to win the New Hampshire primary, which is the country's first primary and one considered a crucial litmus test for would-be presidential candidates.

“Let me tell you a secret,” Sanders told a standing-room-only crowd at a rally in Keene, New Hampshire, the Keene Sentinel reported. “We’re going to win New Hampshire.”