He’s lost his front-runner status and now trails Democratic presidential nomination rival Joe Biden in the all-important race for convention delegates, but Sen. Bernie Sanders says that a victory Tuesday night in Michigan is not a necessity.
“Michigan is obviously a very important state today, there’s a lot of delegates up there, and we certainly very much want to win this debate. But I think let’s not say what you have to win,” the populist senator from Vermont told reporters after stopping by a polling station Tuesday afternoon in Dearborn, Mich.
With 125 pledged delegates at stake, Michigan is the biggest prize among the six states holding contests on Tuesday. The others primaries are Washington state (89 delegates), Missouri (68 delegates), Mississippi (36 delegates) and Idaho (20 delegates), and North Dakota has 14 delegates up for grabs in its caucuses.
Sanders was the front-runner for the Democratic nomination after winning the Feb. 11 New Hampshire primary and then shellacking the field a week and a half later at the Nevada caucuses.
But thanks to the former vice president’s landslide victory in South Carolina – and strong performance during last week’s Super Tuesday when he swept 10 of the 14 states holding primaries on Super Tuesday and took a nearly 100-delegate lead over Sanders – Biden’s reclaimed front-runner status.
Sanders emphasized to reporters on Tuesday that “we got a whole lot of delegates to go.”
While a loss would be considered a setback, Sanders doesn’t see such a prospect as fatal. “I certainly would not consider dropping out,” he said two days ago on “Fox News Sunday.”
Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who’s making his second-straight presidential run, defeated eventual nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016’s primary in Michigan, in what was considered a major upset victory. That foreshadowed Clinton’s narrow loss to Donald Trump in the November 2016 general election in Michigan. Trump’s victory with working-class white voters in the state, as well as similar narrow wins in two other crucial Rust Belt states – Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – propelled him to the White House.
The pre-Michigan primary polls in 2016 got it all wrong – as they indicated Clinton with a double-digit lead over Sanders.
Fast forward four years and Biden was the clear front-runner in Michigan in the final polls released on primary eve.
But Sanders is aiming for a repeat performance that would stave off elimination and instead boost the senator back into a massive battle with Biden for the nomination.
“I think that at the end of the day in a two-person race, when our record is compared to Biden’s, when our vision is compared to Biden’s, when we have that debate in Phoenix (on Sunday, March 15), I’m feeling pretty good,” Sanders emphasized on Tuesday.
Biden on Tuesday touted the 2009 auto industry bailouts during his tenure as vice president under President Barack Obama to remind voters in Michigan of the federal assistance that saved General Motors and Chrysler from falling into bankruptcy during the Great Recession. Many Michigan Democrats earn their livelihood either directly from the auto manufacturers or auto-related industries.
The former vice president made a visit to the Fiat-Chrysler plant in Detroit his last stop in Michigan on primary day. Many credit the plant’s survival to the efforts by the Obama Administration to prop up the auto industry.
While the visit went viral due to Biden’s profanity-laced verbal clash with a worker over Biden’s support for the Second Amendment, the former vice president also spotlighted the bailouts.
“You made me a hero when I was getting a lot of heat for the bailout, the rescue,” Biden said. “You guys saved management. Management didn’t save you.”
Biden – very cognizant of the polling debacle in 2016 – stressed on Monday that “I’m kind of superstitious, I see all these polls. … I remember Hillary was up by 23 points. … I don’t take anything for granted.”
Coronavirus strikes campaign trail
Both the Sanders and Biden campaigns on Tuesday afternoon abruptly canceled their primary night rallies in Cleveland, Ohio, over coronavirus concerns just a few hours before they were scheduled to get underway.
“Out of concern for public health and safety, we are canceling tonight’s rally in Cleveland. We are heeding the public warnings from Ohio state officials, who have communicated concern about holding large, indoor events during the coronavirus outbreak. Sen. Sanders would like to express his regret to the thousands of Ohioans who had planned to attend the event tonight,” Sanders campaign spokesman Mike Casca wrote in a statement.
And Casca added, “All future Bernie 2020 events will be evaluated on a case by case basis.”
The Sanders campaign later told reporters they acted after Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine tweeted Tuesday afternoon that “ATHLETICS: For indoor events, we are asking for no events with spectators other than the athletes, parents, and others essential to the game.”
Minutes later, Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield tweeted, “In accordance with guidance from public officials and out of an abundance of caution, our rally in Cleveland, Ohio tonight is cancelled. We will continue to consult with public health officials and public health guidance and make announcements about future events.”
DeWine on Monday declared a state of emergency after three Ohio residents tested positive for coronavirus.
Earlier Tuesday – during his campaign stop in Michigan – Sanders said “we take the coronavirus very seriously. As you know we had a panel discussion with some of the leading experts in the country on that yesterday. And we take this issue, unlike the president, very, very seriously.”
And the candidate added that he would not hold any campaign events “that public health officials do not feel is advisable.”
Biden – after putting sanitizer on his hands Sunday night at a campaign event in Mississippi – told reporters, “We’re listening to the experts and the CDC and taking advice from them. Whatever advice they give me, we’ll take.”
Biden and Sanders had been planning to hold their Tuesday night rallies in Cleveland because Ohio’s one of four states with primaries just a week away, on March 17. The other states are Florida, Illinois and Arizona.
Long lines in North Dakota
Longer than expected lines of people formed outside a polling station in Fargo, North Dakota, on Tuesday, as the state’s Democratic Party held its “firehouse” caucus.
Fox News’ Mitti Hicks reported that the line to enter the AFL-CIO building in Fargo, one of the 14 caucus sites across the state, zig-zagged across a large parking lot.
A firehouse caucus operates like a primary, with a voter filling out a preference card (similar to a ballot) and casting the card into a ballot box. The caucus is operated by the state party.
Fox News’ Madeleine Rivera, Allie Raffa, Andrew Craft, Tara Prindiville, and Mitti Hicks contributed to this report