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Donald Trump could beat Hillary Clinton: Bill Richardson

Rowdy night at GOP debate

Democrats should not expect the path to the White House to be a cakewalk if Hillary Clinton faces Donald Trump in November, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Friday.

Neither Trump nor Clinton has secured their respective party's nomination, but both candidates cemented their leads in this week's Super Tuesday contests.

There are currently two schools of thought, Richardson said. One believes that Trump will be the Republican nominee, and Clinton will best him in a general election by a wide margin. But others — Richardson included — think the businessman won't go down so easily.

"We've got to be very careful because Trump has tapped into a negativity, a populism that is out there, and I think we have to work extra hard" to attract young voters and turn out the party's base, the 2008 Democratic presidential contender told CNBC's "Squawk Box."

Clinton faces the challenge of not just defeating Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, but overcoming him in a way that allows her to rally his "significant coalition" of supporters, Richardson said.

He said he believes Clinton can ultimately do just that and go on to beat Trump.

Also on "Squawk Box," Republican former Sen. Judd Gregg acknowledged Trump does not command the GOP establishment's support but said the Democrats have a bigger structural problem than the Republicans.

"At least Donald Trump is a capitalist. Bernie Sanders is a socialist, and Hillary Clinton has moved to the socialist position to try to pre-empt him, and they're going to have a lot of trouble getting back from that," Gregg said.

Clinton will be a strong candidate, he said, but she will have to overcome her party's shift far left of the American electorate. Trump also brings a fair amount of Democrats into his coalition, Gregg said.

Calling Trump a "phony," 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Thursday implored voters to support one of Trump's three remaining rivals.

Gregg said he agreed with Romney's assessment that Trump is "crass and erratic," but said Romney failed to speak to the people supporting the New York real estate tycoon. Gregg, who supports John Kasich, said the Ohio governor was the only candidate who looked presidential in Thursday night's debate, during which Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz frequently attacked Trump.

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