Hillary Clinton easily won the Mississippi primary Tuesday, the Associated Press projected, widening her lead over Bernie Sanders in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, while Sanders focused on trying to score an upset in Michigan, where the race is still too close to call.
The victory adds to her Southern winning streak. If she also claims Michigan, where she led in pre-primary polls, it would telegraph Sanders’ weakness across the industrial Midwest and deal a potentially fatal blow to his efforts to build a more diverse coalition of voters to challenge Clinton’s growing delegate lead.
Sanders did not heavily contest Mississippi but saw Michigan as a chance to renew his momentum heading into other critical contests this month.
The Vermont senator, having lost by huge margins to Clinton in the South, has fallen far enough behind in convention delegates that he’d have to bag three-fifths of remaining delegates just to break even with Clinton, according to the nonpartisanCook Political Report. Delegates are divided proportionally in each state based on the primary results.
Clinton had been favored to win Michigan, and her Mississippi victory was no surprise. A Monmouth University poll out Monday showed her up 13 points in Michigan, and recent Mississippi surveys had her up at least 30 points on Sanders. She had done very well among African-American voters throughout the primary season, and both states were expected to have large numbers of black primary voters.
She is also leading him by 9 points nationally in a new NBC News/Wall Street Journalpoll.
Yet Michigan is ideally suited to Sanders’ anti-trade, anti-corporate message about a “rigged economy,” and Sanders is hoping to pull off an upset.
“This is a state he should be winning on his economic message,” said Susan Demas, editor and publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, a political analysis newsletter.
The city of Detroit has gone from one of the country’s richest in the 1960s to one of the poorest today. The once-thriving automotive hub is pocked by blighted homes and crime. The loss of manufacturing jobs has also devastated many neighboring cities, fueling more than 20 years of resentment among white, working-class Democrats over the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed into law by Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton, in 1993.
Sanders is targeting young voters and disaffected white, working-class voters hurt most by the decline of the automotive industry over the past 20 years. While Clinton is also competing for this demographic, major labor unions including the Teamstersand United Auto Workers, traditional Democratic allies, have not endorsed a candidate.
Clinton has counter-punched by criticizing Sanders for his vote against a 2009 government bailout that many in Michigan credit for saving the automotive industry and 4 million jobs. During a Fox News town hall on Monday, Sanders defended his vote by saying he supported the auto package, but not the broader legislation it was attached to. “I knew at the time, that if that industry went down, millions of jobs, not only in Michigan and Ohio, but all over this country would be impacted,” said Sanders. “What I did not vote for was the bail out of Wall Street,” he said.
Clinton also cornered him during a Sunday debate during which he defended legislation granting gun makers legal immunity for damages caused by their products, a hot issue in the black community.
Clinton has also been trying to distance herself from her husband’s trade policies, including granting China “most favored nation” trading status, by pointing to her Senate record. Clinton says she opposed a Central American trade pact, the only multinational trade agreement to come up during her Senate tenure, and more recently, she came out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a deal President Obama has been trying to advance.
Days before the primary, she proposed a “clawback tax” on companies that send jobs or production facilities overseas. If she wins decisively in Michigan, it will also owe to her focus on the water crisis in Flint. Clinton pushed for the debate there last Sunday on CNN to give the issue more national attention.
Sanders’ wins have been concentrated in caucus states like Minnesota and Colorado, as well as his home state of Vermont. Accounting for superdelegates, the party leaders and officials who automatically get convention votes, Clinton leads Sanders 1,134 to 502. A candidate needs 2,382 delegates to clinch the nomination.
Her large margin of victory in Mississippi on Tuesday — early results suggested she could double his share by the time the count is done — also will pad her delegate lead.
Clinton is also leading Sanders by a large margin in Florida, a state that’s played a historically decisive role in determining presidential winners. Both Ohio and Florida vote March 15, by which time the Clinton campaign is hoping to have a solid grip on the nomination.
During the Monday Fox News event, Clinton sought to look ahead to the general election, calling Sanders an “ally” in response to an audience question. “I hope to work with him, the issues he has raised, the passion he has demonstrated, the people he has attracted, are going to be very important in the general election,” she said.