Biden, Sanders Square Off in Crucial Michigan Primary

Former Vice President Joe Biden embraces Sen. Bernie Sanders during a Democratic presidential primary debate in Manchester, N.H., on Feb. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

DETROIT (CN) – Michigan Democrats seek to reclaim the electoral grip they held on the state for decades until President Donald Trump won it by less than 11,000 votes in 2016, the narrowest margin of victory in the state’s presidential election history and first by a Republican since 1988.

Primary voters on Tuesday will decide between Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden as they choose the Democratic candidate they think has the best chance to unseat the incumbent president in November.

The Super Tuesday primaries last week caused several candidates to drop out with no path to victory. Sanders’ showing was underwhelming with wins in only four of 14 states but it was not a death blow, considering Michigan is the first primary in an industrial state with a significant union presence and carries 125 delegates.

Other states holding primaries Tuesday are Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Washington. Biden is forecasted to win in Missouri, where 68 pledged delegates are awarded – 24 are given based on the statewide vote, and 44 based on the vote in its congressional districts.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a primary election night rally in Los Angeles on March 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Mississippi awards 36 delegates, 13 based on the statewide vote and 23 for votes in congressional districts. Biden is polling well there and in North Dakota, where 14 delegates are at play based on a statewide vote.

Washington awards 89 pledged delegates – 31 for the statewide vote and 58 from its congressional districts – while Idaho awards 20 delegates, seven for the statewide vote and 13 from congressional districts. Recent polling suggests Sanders can win those two states.

Biden leads the race so far with 670 total delegates while Sanders trails with 574, according to an Associated Press tracker. A candidate needs to secure 1,991 delegates to win the Democratic presidential nomination.

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, one of the post-Super Tuesday dropouts, has pledged to throw his support behind Biden. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who exited the race last Thursday, has yet to make an endorsement.

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., fired up supporters at a Sanders rally in Detroit with an emotional speech last Friday. Detroit City Council President Pro Tempore Mary Sheffield also pledged her support for Sanders and a grassroots organization called Detroit Action that seeks to contact 40,000 minority voters before the primary and 275,000 before the November election.

Former presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, whom Sanders endorsed during his 1988 run, returned the favor and endorsed Sanders over the weekend.

“The Biden campaign has not reached out to me or asked for my support,” Jackson said at a rally in Grand Rapids on Sunday. “The Sanders campaign has, and they responded to the issues I raised.”

John Mogk, law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, thinks Biden will be able to pull off a big win in the Michigan primary.

“I think it’s his to lose at this point,” he said.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders poses for a photograph after a campaign stop in Denver on Feb. 16, 2020. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Sanders narrowly won the 2016 Michigan primary over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton by less than 18,000 votes in what was a stunning victory, considering the polling predicted an easy victory for the former Secretary of State.

Mogk suggested that magic may not be as strong this time around.

“Biden appears to have the momentum and strength to overcome whatever Bernie is able to muster to continue his campaign,” he said.

Recent polling published by The Detroit Free Press shows Biden with a commanding lead of 24 points in Michigan, 51% to 27%.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry was among the high-profile supporters who stumped for Biden over the weekend in a flurry of events.  The Free Press reported he stopped in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills to appeal to Jewish community leaders.

“He’s always been the guy who’s been fighting for the middle class, and people struggling to get into the middle class.” Kerry told supporters.

Biden secured another endorsement from California Senator Kamala Harris, a former primary rival. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar also pitched in to help Biden with a visit to Michigan.

Klobuchar dropped out of the race right before Super Tuesday and helped push the former vice president to a decisive victory in her home state.

“I cannot think of a better way to end it than joining Joe Biden,” she told a group of supporters in Southfield about the conclusion of her campaign, according to the Free Press.

Mogk thinks Klobuchar would be a wise pick for vice president if Biden secures the nomination.

“[She] is from the Midwest and does well on the stump,” he said, adding Klobuchar “has experience on The Hill she could bring to the office of the president.”

Sanders had help Sunday from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who flew in for an event on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor.

How voters feel about health care could be the make or break issue in the primary contest. Sanders supporters are all in on government-run health care as well as a historical reshaping of tax laws while Biden supporters are considered more moderate on reforms.

Regardless of who secures the nomination, polling suggests the Democratic candidate has a chance to unseat President Trump. Both Sanders and Biden lead in polls against the president in Michigan.

If Biden secures the nomination, Mogk thinks we’ll see more of former President Barack Obama in the coming months to support his friend and former running mate.

“He’s most anxious to preserve his legacy, to move the country in the direction he had shaped. He sees Joe Biden as carrying on his work,” he said.

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