Why Sanders momentum ultimately helps Clinton: Ex-rep

Hillary Clinton will ultimately reap the benefits of Bernie Sanders' momentum after a tough race for the Democratic presidential nomination, former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. said Tuesday.

The Democrat and Morgan Stanley managing director offered his assessment after Clinton canceled campaign stops in New Jersey to stump in California, where Sanders is attempting to upset the former secretary of state in the state's primary next week.

Clinton has a commanding lead over Sanders, but the Vermont senator has kept the pressure on the front-runner in a bid to gain leverage and push his progressive agenda at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July.

Despite continued division among Democrats, Ford said Clinton has an attractive message on key issues important to Sanders supporters, such as the Supreme Court, climate change and income inequality.

"When Bernie Sanders does get out of the race, the energy that he has generated, it's hard to imagine it going anywhere but to Hillary Clinton," Ford told CNBC's "Squawk Box."

"Now will there be some Bernie Sanders supporters who will demand more? Of course. That happens in every presidential race, including on the Republican side," he said.

Ford noted that some Republicans are still urging an independent conservative to run against presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump. On Sunday, Bill Kristol, Weekly Standard editor and a leading voice in the "Never Trump" movement, tweeted that there would be a "strong" independent candidate.

"If a third-party candidacy does materialize, I can't imagine how that doesn't help Hillary Clinton in the fall," Ford said.

Kellyanne Conway, CEO and president of The Polling Co., said Clinton is struggling to fight a two-front battle against Sanders and Trump. The Republican added that Clinton remains unable to settle on a message.

"This woman ought to get a refund on her focus groups, because … it's practically June and she's still struggling to find a good message," she told "Squawk Box."

Conway noted that Sanders has said the Democratic convention could be "messy."

Sanders made those comments in an interview with The Associated Press, during which he also said, "Democracy is not always nice and quiet and gentle."

Sanders' supporters will not go gently into the night, Conway said.

"They believe that he hasn't just raised important issues … but they believe those issues ought to be the dominant, front-and-center part of the conversation going into Philadelphia," she said.

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