Biden adds Michigan to win total, delivering blow to Sanders
Former Vice President Joe Biden swept to victory in the South and Midwest on Tuesday, demonstrating the strength of his multiracial coalition and extending his delegate advantage over Sen. Bernie Sanders as he took command of the Democratic presidential race.
Biden won Michigan, Missouri and Mississippi with overwhelming support from African Americans and with large margins among suburban and rural white voters, replicating an advantage he displayed on Super Tuesday a week ago when he captured 10 of 14 states.
Sanders had an opportunity to slow Biden in the West, where Idaho and Washington voters were going to the polls, but he suffered a grievous blow in what was the most closely watched and biggest delegate prize of the day: Michigan.
One week after suffering a series of unexpected losses on Super Tuesday, Sanders had raced to revive his candidacy in the state. But even after holding several events across Michigan and mounting some of his most pointed attacks against Biden, he was defeated in what could be a pivotal Midwestern bellwether in a race where the former vice president has triumphed in the South and Sanders has won in the West.
The contest in Michigan held great symbolic significance for both candidates, each of whom has presented himself as uniquely capable of reclaiming the Midwest for Democrats in 2020. Biden has long boasted of his bond with working-class voters there, while Sanders has enjoyed a lasting political glow from his upset victory over Hillary Clinton in the Michigan primary four years ago. His inability to replicate that feat against a more popular opponent, Biden, further undercuts his argument that only a candidate who trumpets farreaching change can energize voters there.
The Michigan and Missouri results were especially foreboding for Sanders because they suggested his strength among rural Midwestern voters in 2016 largely owed to their opposition to Clinton. Against Biden, Sanders was routed across the countryside of both states.
Biden’s victories came against a backdrop of unexpected instability in the economy and widespread fear about the coronavirus as a growing threat to public health — forces that may have further bolstered the former vice president’s message of steady leadership against Sanders’ promises of social transformation.
The spread of the coronavirus across the United States also raised the specter that political activities could soon be curtailed or restructured for reasons of public health. Just hours before the polls closed, both candidates canceled planned rallies in Ohio, citing concerns related to the virus.
Mark Brewer, a former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, said Sanders had confronted circumstances this time that made the state a tougher battlefield for him. Brewer, who was a supporter of Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, said voters appeared to have made a straightforward assessment of the two candidates’ electability and that “at least for tonight, in Michigan, Biden won that argument.”
Sanders scrambled to shore up his position in Michigan, above all, canceling campaign stops in other states in order to focus on that battleground state, where he revived his campaign against Clinton four years ago after a series of Super Tuesday losses. He held rallies there with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, seeking to rev up his base of young voters and make headway with the black voters who have propelled Biden’s surge since the South Carolina primary in late February.
In the days after last week’s contests, three of the most prominent Michigan Democrats elected in 2018 — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Reps. Haley Stevens and Elissa Slotkin — endorsed Biden in part because they say he will be palatable to the moderate voters who propelled the party in the midterm elections.
“Joe Biden resonates with Michiganders,” Whitmer said in an interview, arguing that he was using the same center-left “blueprint I used in 2018.”