After weeks of talk about a “Sanders ceiling” and the limitations of a 78-year-old self-declared Socialist who recently suffered a heart attack, Democrats are ending their “denial” phase and facing the inescapable fact:

Sen. Bernie Sanders is a frontrunner for their party’s nomination. In fact, he’s just two contests away — Iowa and New Hampshire — from being the frontrunner.

While Sanders’ polls are rising both in Iowa and among Democrats nationwide, the truly eye-popping polls are from New Hampshire, a state that just weeks ago looked like a tossup between the top four candidates: Sanders, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren.

Today, Sanders sits atop the RealClearPolitics average after leading in six consecutive Granite State polls by an average of eight points over Biden. His support has steadily risen from 14 percent around Thanksgiving to 24 percent today. No other candidate has enjoyed a similar Granite State trend.

Indeed, one-time favorite daughter Liz Warren from neighboring Massachusetts is in fourth place — and trails Sanders by 11 points. Put another way, Sanders’ worst performance in the past six polls (16 percent) is tied with Warren’s best.

Establishment Democrats who believe Bernie would doom the Democratic ballot in November have finally taken notice and are beginning to act. The question is:  Is it too late?

The Daily Beast reports: “A group of loosely affiliated Democratic operatives have been in discussions about putting together an effort to attack Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) should he end up winning next week’s Iowa caucus and, potentially, the New Hampshire primary a week later.”

According to the reporting, these efforts are both modest and ill-defined. Candidates and their allies usually handle the hard work of “going negative” on candidates, not ad hoc coalitions. To Republicans, who wage more bare-knuckle primaries and remember the lesson of Trump’s rise in 2016, the Democrats’ unwillingness to attack Sanders’ public record is baffling.

Some Obama-era Democrats agree that Sanders must be stopped, but fear the window may be closing. “He’s in a position to win Iowa and New Hampshire at this point,” Ben LaBolt, Obama’s former national press secretary, told Politico.  “Now’s the moment. We’re a week out from Iowa. It might be too late for some states already. But it’s not too late for the nomination.”

South Carolina veteran Democratic operative, State Sen. Dick Harpootlian, is adamant that his party step up and confront Sanders, rather than make the mistakes of the anti-Trump GOP four years ago.

“You’ve got to beat Sanders, not try to outlast him,” Harpootlian, a Biden supporter, told InsideSources. “You’ve got to point out the differences, make distinctions between Biden and Sanders — the most important being that one stands a good chance to beat Trump, and the other stands no chance,” Harpootlian said.

And yet Harpootlian’s fellow early-state Democrats appear reluctant to take Sanders on. Not a single one of New Hampshire’s all-Democratic congressional delegation has endorsed Biden or Warren, the two candidates most likely to prevent him from winning the Granite State. In fact, only one has made any endorsement — Rep. Annie Kuster, who endorsed Buttigieg.

As for the candidates themselves, none have run any negative ads targeting the Vermont Socialist. According to the Daily Beast, the total expenditures on negative media targeting Sanders has been just $32.72, digital ads from the free-market group Club for Growth.

That may end soon, but with the Iowa caucus less than a week away, it’s late for Democrats to ask grassroots voters who backed Sanders four years ago to dismiss him now as an unacceptable choice, no matter how much money they spend.

And as for the issue of electability, polls consistently show that Sanders is second only to Biden on the “most likely to beat Trump” metric, well ahead of Warren and Buttigieg.

Harpootlian says Sanders’ lack of southern support, particularly from African American voters, could eventually keep him from getting the delegates he needs to win the nomination. “He’s got no support or organization among African-Americans down here, none.” However, Harpootlian also acknowledged that if Sanders wins Iowa and New Hampshire back to back, he’ll be viable on Super Tuesday where blue states like California and Massachusetts will be in play.

“That’s if he wins Iowa,” Harpootlian added, hopefully. “Maybe he doesn’t.”

Hartpootlian has been to Iowa to door knock for Biden, not a natural environment for the South Carolina Democrat (“They were having a blizzard, and we were still out knocking on doors!”), and he’s heading back this weekend. He had one optimistic observation from the Hawkeye State.

“My sense is that the caucus goers may be older than usual, and more ‘regular’ people — folks who don’t go to every caucus — may show up. There’s a tremendous feeling among average Americans that they’ve just got to stop Trump.”