Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders swapped victories Tuesday night, with the former first lady’s expected win in Mississippi’s Democratic primary overshadowed by the Sanders upset in Michigan, demonstrating that the Vermont senator still has life in the Democratic presidential fight.
In Mississippi Mrs. Clinton carried 83 percent of the vote to just 16 percent for the self-proclaimed democratic socialist, with 91 percent of precincts reporting as of 11 p.m.
Despite the outcome in Michigan, Mrs. Clinton maintained her strong lead in delegates and continued to turn her attention toward the general election.
In a speech to supporters in Cleveland, she once again took not-so-subtle shots at Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, a decisive winner in both the Michigan and Mississippi Republican contests, and his campaign theme, “Make America great again.”
“When you run for an office like this, it’s a leap of faith. And what’s important is we’ve got to focus on how we bring our country back together,” Mrs. Clinton said. “You know, the divisiveness, the mean-spiritedness, that’s not going to move us forward. We need to stand united. Trying to divide us between us and them, it’s wrong, it goes against our most cherished values.”
“We’ve got to resist forces trying to drive us apart … There are a lot of them out there. They seem to have forgotten what made us great in the first place. You know, America is great; we don’t have to make it great again.”
For Mr. Sanders, Tuesday’s Mississippi result again highlighted his inability to win support from black voters, a key Democratic constituency. Exit polls showed that black Democrats in Mississippi strongly favor Mrs. Clinton despite enhanced outreach efforts by the Sanders campaign in recent weeks.
But his win in Michigan indicates that the senator perhaps can do well across the Midwest, an important area moving forward.
Illinois and Ohio go to the polls on March 15, as do Florida and North Carolina. Mrs. Clinton is far ahead in the two Southern states and also has leads in Illinois and Ohio, surveys show, but Tuesday’s Michigan result raises new questions about whether she’ll hold those leads when actual voting begins.
Mr. Sanders made clear Tuesday night he’s not going down without a fight. He told supporters in Miami that Democrats should support him because he’s the stronger general election candidate.
“One of the criticisms or attacks against my campaign is Bernie is a nice guy, he combs his hair ever so beautifully. … But despite all of those attributes, he just cannot defeat a Republican in a general election,” he said. “So let me tell you what some in the media may not know, and that is that in almost all of the national polls, we beat Donald Trump, and we almost always do better than Secretary Clinton against him.”
But Mrs. Clinton still will have a commanding delegate lead when the dust settles after Tuesday’s contests.
Heading into the evening’s contest, Mrs. Clinton had 1,130 delegates to Mr. Sanders‘ 499. The figures include awarded delegates in caucuses and primaries and so-called superdelegates, Democratic Party leaders who are free to support either candidate.
Having captured a majority of Tuesday night’s delegates — 147 were at stake in Michigan, 41 in Mississippi — Mrs. Clinton is now well on her way to the 2,383 needed to win the nomination.
While there was suspense in the Michigan contest, Mrs. Clinton’s strong victory in Mississippi was no surprise. With massive support among black voters, Mrs. Clinton consistently has crushed Mr. Sanders across the South.
She emerged from Tennessee, Louisiana, South Carolina, Alabama and other Southern states with dominant victories, and Mr. Sanders — despite an increased focus on racial issues during Democratic debates and on the campaign trail — has been unable to make serious inroads against Mrs. Clinton’s Southern “firewall.”
Exit polls in Mississippi on Tuesday night showed African-American voters strongly favor Mrs. Clinton. In Mississippi, for example, 47 percent of Democrats say they trust “only Clinton” to handle race relations, while just 11 percent said “only Sanders.” Thirty-five percent said they’d trust both candidates.
The Obama factor
Other exit polls also found many Democrats want the next president to continue President Obama’s policies, from health care to Wall Street reform. Mrs. Clinton has made clear she’ll stick to the path Mr. Obama has charted, while Mr. Sanders is pushing a much more liberal agenda.
Tuesday’s Michigan primary also came against the backdrop of the ongoing water contamination crisis in the city of Flint. At Sunday night’s debate, both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders called on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, to resign for failing to deal with the scandal in time. Mr. Sanders has been calling for Mr. Snyder’s resignation for weeks, but the debate marked the first time Mrs. Clinton joined that chorus.
After a surprisingly tough battle in Michigan, Sanders supporters want him to remain in the race and keep pushing Mrs. Clinton further left on such issues as Wall Street reform, entitlement programs, climate change, college affordability and other issues high on the liberal agenda.
“I certainly hope that he continues, because I think he is making a significant contribution to the rejuvenation of the Democratic Party,” Deborah Sagner, a New Jersey real estate executive who has given the maximum donation to Mr. Sanders‘ campaign, told Politico on Tuesday.
“When the story of this primary is told in the history books, Bernie Sanders will be seen as having put huge amounts of oxygen in the room for economic populism themes to be embraced by the Democratic Party,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the powerful progressive activist group the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
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