Biden, Sanders set for key battle in Michigan
Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are going all in on the Michigan presidential primary, a keystone 2020 contest and the biggest delegate prize since Biden’s surprising surge this week.
Michigan is the largest of six states voting on Tuesday, the first time the remaining two top primary contenders will go head-to-head since Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg dropped of the race.
Both candidates are making serious plays for the Wolverine State as Sanders fights to prove he’s better at appealing to working-class voters and Biden seeks to lock in his status as the Democratic front-runner following Super Tuesday victories in Minnesota, Texas, Massachusetts and elsewhere.
Biden is dispatching Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who dropped out of the 2020 race and endorsed him on Monday, to the state to campaign on his behalf, and Sanders has canceled an upcoming appearance in Mississippi, which also votes Tuesday, to make one more stop in Michigan.
Recent polling gives an edge to Biden, who has secured the backing of several high-profile Michigan figures, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), former Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan (D). He also won the endorsements of the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News.
The shape of the Democratic primary race has transformed in recent days after Biden, whose campaign was left for dead after lackluster showings in the first three primaries, rebounded on Saturday with a convincing victory over Sanders in South Carolina. Following that vote, Klobuchar and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg dropped their White House campaigns and endorsed Biden ahead of his slew of victories on Tuesday.
Matt Grossmann, the director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, calls Michigan “mostly a microcosm of the country,” saying the state has “had the same trends that the nation as a whole has had.”
“So you would expect a continued bounce after Super Tuesday from Biden, so he’s probably leading and gaining at this very moment, but there’s still some time to go and there are some factors that could change that,” Grossmann said.
Sanders, who beat eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in Michigan in 2016, has sought to blunt Biden’s momentum with a spree of speeches and new advertisements that, among other things, excoriate the former vice president’s record on issues such as supporting the North American Free Trade Agreement and a controversial bankruptcy bill, issues he hopes could be unpopular among working-class voters.
But Michigan, like several other states set to hold primaries in the coming weeks, appears demographically favorable to Biden. While the two duke it out over blue-collar workers, Biden has maintained a substantial advantage with black voters, which make up the vast majority of Detroit and 20 percent of the state, as well as white suburbanites, who flocked to his campaign on Tuesday, and older voters, who go to the polls more consistently than younger voters.
“Joe Biden is a coalition-builder. He brings together African Americans, whites, the Arab-American community and countless others. To me, that’s exciting,” Tom Kelly, the Biden campaign’s Michigan senior adviser, told The Hill. “Every race, religion and socioeconomic class is engaged with this campaigns. That’s not something you see every day.”
Sanders, meanwhile, has shown strong support among Hispanic voters, but they make up a negligible percentage of Michigan’s population.
“Bernie has lost white working-class and white rural voters and gained among Latinos. So that trade was OK for him on Super Tuesday but will be an awful trade for him in Michigan,” Grossmann said. “I think the big swing potentially is that it was a base for Bernie last time to have white rural voters who didn’t like Hillary Clinton, but that doesn’t look like it will be a base this time.”
Sanders has repeatedly beat back concerns about his electability, saying that while he trails Biden among certain demographics, he could produce a surge in turnout among younger Americans and others who often forgo voting.
A Biden victory in Michigan, which offers 125 pledged delegates in the primary and 16 Electoral College votes in the general election, would seriously endanger Sanders’s pitch that he’s the best candidate to flip it, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania back to blue after President Trump won each by less than 1 percent in 2016.
“If we can win big in Michigan, I think that sets the tone for the states that come up next,” said Kelly.
The Sanders campaign did not make an official available for comment.
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