Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders shocked the Hillary Clinton campaign with a close victory Tuesday night in Michigan's Democratic primary, seizing on voter discontent over Clinton-era trade deals and performing better than expected among black voters. Meanwhile, Clinton picked up another victory in Mississippi's primary.
“The Bernie Sanders campaign, the people’s revolution that we are talking about … is strong in every part of the country, and frankly we believe our strongest areas are yet to happen,” Sanders said shortly before his victory in Michigan's was called by TV networks. “This has been a fantastic night in Michigan; we’re very grateful.”
Exit polls showed a higher number of African-Americans voted for Sanders Tuesday than previously anticipated. He was reported as losing them 65 percent to 30 percent in Michigan, while in Alabama he lost them 91 percent to 6 percent and in Arkansas 90 percent to 10 percent against Clinton.
Michigan might have served as Sanders’ last, best chance to compete with Clinton, and his campaign manager Jeff Weaver dubbed Michigan “a critical showdown.”
Heading into Michigan — the Democrats were vying for 130 delegates there — Clinton was predicted to do well. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist survey placed her ahead of Sanders by 57 percent to 40 percent.
While the two Democratic contenders were split fairly evenly among white voters, according to the survey, Clinton led Sanders among African-American voters a whopping 76 to 21 percent, suggesting that the former secretary of state would likely have a strong showing among that demographic in Michigan, Politico reported. Up to 30 percent of the Democratic electorate was expected to be African-American.
“Sanders is still in the race to make the point, but it’s not a close contest. Michigan will further drive that point home,” said Cook Political Report analyst David Wasserman, USA Today reported.
Despite Clinton’s hefty lead in the state’s polls, the state was fertile ground for Sanders’ message focusing on "unfair" trade agreements, income inequality and a "rigged economy." Michigan has been plagued with economic problems, from Flint's ongoing water crisis to Detroit's crumbling economy from manufacturing job losses.
Unemployment has contributed to resentment among white, working-class Democrats over the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1993. Most recently, the former secretary of state flip-flopped on her position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership in October, announcing that she opposed the deal. During her tenure as secretary of state, she advocated for the TPP 45 times. In the past, Clinton also switched her stance several times on NAFTA and the Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
Sanders slammed Clinton this week over her past support for free trade agreements, which might have contributed to her ultimate loss in Michigan Tuesday night.
"What these trade agreements have done is decimate community after community in the Midwest and all over America," Sanders said in Michigan Monday. "I have helped lead the opposition to every one of these disastrous trade agreements because I knew what they would do."
Michigan’s primary election came on the heels of a heated Democratic debate Sunday night in Flint. Sanders and Clinton clashed over an array of issues, from gun control to auto industry bailouts. Wooing voters in Michigan (and other Rust Belt states), Clinton portrayed Sanders' opposition to a Wall Street bailout bill as a vote against helping the auto industry.
The two Democrats did agree that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder should step down amid the Flint water crisis, which has left the city’s residents with lead-contaminated water. The debate took place just one day after Sanders secured victories in Kansas and Nebraska, while Clinton nabbed a win in the Louisiana primary Saturday night.
In Mississippi, Clinton was also the anticipated winner Tuesday night, largely because the state resembles South Carolina, with a large African American population. Clinton has traditionally done well with black voters, and the former secretary of state won by landslide in South Carolina Feb. 27 and in other Southern states on Super Tuesday last week. On Thursday, Clinton brought her husband and former president Bill Clinton for a surprise visit to Jackson State University--a historically black college--in Jackson, Mississippi.
Instead of blasting Sanders, Clinton talked about themes of empowerment during her victory speech Tuesday night after her win in Mississippi. "If we reach for love and kindness instead of bluster and bigotry, we can see the best in each other, not the worst," Clinton said.
Voters will cast their ballots March 15 in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio. Despite Sanders' significant win in Michigan, Clinton has hundreds of more delegate votes than Sanders has won so far.