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Sanders Narrowly Defeats Clinton In Michigan; She Wins Miss. Primary


Voters delivered a surprise last night. Michigan gave a Democratic primary win to Bernie Sanders.


He narrowly defeated Hillary Clinton despite polls that showed him far behind. That was just one result on a night when Clinton also won Mississippi, not to mention Republican wins for Donald Trump and also Ted Cruz.

INSKEEP: Let's focus on the Democratic results now with NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson, who's been covering all of this for many months. Mara, good morning.


INSKEEP: Can you put last night's Democratic results into one sentence?

LIASSON: Yes. Bernie Sanders once again exposes Hillary Clinton's potential weaknesses as a general election candidate.

GREENE: OK, there's the summary. We're going to talk much more about that, Mara. But - and we'll expand on that. Let's hear a little bit from the candidates and also from some of their advisers first. NPR's Tamara Keith has been covering the campaign.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: If elections are about expectations and momentum, then Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders won the night last night. Hillary Clinton won the primary as expected in Mississippi by an overwhelming margin. But Michigan was the biggest prize. And polls leading into the primary had Clinton up by double digits. That's not how it turned out, not even close.


BERNIE SANDERS: I just want to take this opportunity to thank the people of Michigan, who kind of repudiated the polls that had us 20, 25 points down a few days ago.

KEITH: That was Bernie Sanders at almost 11 o'clock last night. He had given a speech hours earlier. But he was back to make a statement after it was clear voters in Michigan were making a statement of their own.


SANDERS: What tonight means is that the Bernie Sanders campaign, the people's - the revolution - the people's revolution that we are talking about, the political revolution that we are talking about is strong in every part of the country.

KEITH: In the final tally, Sanders won Michigan by 2 percentage points, a margin of about 20,000 votes out of a million cast. Exit polls indicate Sanders' message about international trade deals hurting American workers resonated with Michigan voters.


SANDERS: And frankly, we believe that our strongest areas are yet to happen.

KEITH: Sanders' campaign sent out a fundraising email celebrating the win and asking his supporters to pitch in just a little bit more. If history is a guide, this win will help Sanders raise millions of dollars in a matter of hours. And that money will help him compete and run TV ads in the next states on the election calendar - Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Missouri and Ohio.


HILLARY CLINTON: Thank you so much. Hello, Cleveland. Hello, Ohio.

KEITH: Long before the results were in, Hillary Clinton, her campaign sensing Michigan wasn't going their way, spoke to supporters in Cleveland.


CLINTON: This will be a busy week here in Ohio.


CLINTON: And this campaign is about building a future where every American can live up to his or her full potential.

KEITH: For the Clinton campaign, losing to Sanders in Michigan is a speed bump, one they certainly would rather have avoided. But as Clinton's team sees it, this race isn't about momentum or expectations or even about wins. It's about delegates. And in that respect, Clinton didn't actually lose last night. She pulled further ahead. With her 66-point win in Mississippi and her close second in Michigan, she ended the night winning more pledged delegates than Sanders. As she spoke last night, it was clear that Clinton has one eye on Sanders but the other on Donald Trump.


CLINTON: Now, running for president shouldn't be about delivering insults. It should be about delivering results for the American people.

KEITH: The delegate math remains in Clinton's favor. But Sanders' campaign adviser, Tad Devine, says this is a marathon not a sprint. He described the campaign strategy over the weekend to Politico reporter Glenn Thrush in his podcast called "Off Message."


TAD DEVINE: We're going to try to beat her in pledged delegates. We think we've got until the end of the process to do that. We think we have - it's going to be hard. It's going to be tough. We know we have to win to get it done. But we think we can.

KEITH: And after their stunning come-from-behind win in Michigan, it's a whole lot harder to tell them they can't.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tamara Keith on the Democratic results from the primaries last night.

GREENE: And we were listening to that with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, who's still on the line. And Mara, Tamara just suggested the Clinton campaign is hoping that Michigan is just a speed bump. But you said a few moments ago that you see that state and Bernie Sanders' win exposing some potential weaknesses for Hillary Clinton. What are the weaknesses?

LIASSON: Well, I think that what it says is if she loses to a Democratic populist in Michigan, why wouldn't she lose to a Republican populist in Michigan in November? I mean, that's the whole Donald Trump argument. I can scramble the map. I can win in places that he says no, quote, "normal Republican" can win in. I can carry Michigan in the fall. I can do the same in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, et cetera. And I think it does expose her weaknesses. Populism is a very, very strong sentiment in the electorate in both parties.

INSKEEP: Now, in order to get to that general election for either candidate of course, they've got to win their party's nomination. And we just heard something interesting from a Sanders adviser that I want to translate. He said we're going to try to beat Hillary in pledged delegates. He's saying he wants to disregard these superdelegates, who have nearly all gone for Hillary Clinton and given her a huge advantage in the total number of delegates. Is it even mathematically possible, at this point, for Sanders' side to get a majority just of the pledged delegates and make some kind of a case at the convention that he ought to be the nominee?

LIASSON: Well, he has to win a very, very big percentage of the pledged delegates, over 50 percent, going forward if he's going to do that. And if he starts beating her in pledged delegates by large amounts, superdelegates will switch. We saw this happen in 2008, when Hillary Clinton was also ahead in superdelegates. But when Barack Obama started winning primaries, the superdelegates moved over.

GREENE: Mara, if you can, let's turn to one issue. I want to play you a bit of tape from a Democratic pollster, Margie Omero, who spoke to us a little bit earlier on the program this morning.


MARGIE OMERO: I was surprised to see trade be so salient, frankly. It's something that's pretty complicated and dense and different for every voter and how they experience it. But it may be important, particularly in the Midwest. And the results from last night may portend what we are going to see next week in some of the other contests.

GREENE: Bernie Sanders' message - sort of talking about the downside of free trade seemed to really resonate with Democrats in the state of Michigan. Is that something that Sanders can try and capitalize on in other states in the Midwest and elsewhere?

LIASSON: Well, absolutely. I think this sets him up very nicely for Ohio. What he's saying is, now I proved that I can win in a diverse state. Michigan is a state where the Democratic primary electorate is more like the national electorate. In other words, it has a lot of white voters but not a hugely disproportionate number of African-American voters. He can say that the Michigan electorate is more representative than the Democratic electorate in, say, Mississippi or South Carolina or any of the Southern states where she wins by huge amounts. So I think this really sets him up well for Ohio. And I think it would give the Clinton campaign some pause.

INSKEEP: Now, let's bring in another factor here and also talk a little bit about the Republicans because you mentioned Donald Trump appealing to a certain kind of voter, Sanders perhaps appealing to the same kind of voter. Does Hillary Clinton have the same power was the question you raised. We're told that Sanders won white working-class voters in Michigan. We're told that Trump appeals to white working-class voters. The question is, who are those people really? Let's listen from earlier today to Republican consultant John Feehery as well as Democrat Margi Omero again.

JOHN FEEHERY: Interesting that both Bernie and Trump are going for those same voters. And I think that they're doing better than expected in both parties.

OMERO: You know, I cringe when I hear comparisons between Trump and Sanders. I mean, Trump is using just hateful language. I think it's something that Republicans should worry about. I think we should all be worrying about him becoming a nominee and what that means for our political process. Meanwhile, I don't think the same is true. Obviously, the same is not true for Sanders.

INSKEEP: What do the numbers suggest about whether Trump and Sanders really are appealing to the same kinds of people?

LIASSON: Well, I think there is some overlap. And I think this is what Donald Trump is saying he can do in the fall. He can say he can bring in white working-class voters who either have never voted before, have voted for Democrats or they're independents. And that's why he's saying that he can win in November using these same issues. Now, he is certainly not - doesn't have the same message as Bernie Sanders, is much more nativist, much more xenophobic. But he is trying to temper it. Every so often, Donald Trump tries to sound more unifying, note, less belligerent and, you know, with varying degrees of success. But that's clearly his general election strategy.

GREENE: Mara, heading into this night, I mean, we had - the stop Trump campaign in full force, led by Mitt Romney and others, seemed on its face to backfire. But if you are a Republican and you do not want Donald Trump to be the nominee, is there anything you can look to last night that would give you some sort of hope?

LIASSON: Not much. I think there were some glimmers of hope over the weekend. But the only thing I think a Never Trump person could look to is that now even more money - many, many millions of dollars - are going to be spent against him next week in Ohio and Illinois and Florida. And maybe that will be kind of the last experiment of the Never Trump movement, to see if this negative advertising actually does slow him down. But I think if you're a Never Trump person, you have to be looking pretty hard at Ted Cruz.

INSKEEP: Just one - just about 10 seconds here. And this is just one poll, but there was an NBC poll finding that all of Trump's challengers would beat him if it were a head-to-head race. Is there still a large ambivalence among the Republican electorate, not the leaders - in about 10 seconds - about Trump?

LIASSON: Well, sure because for every new white working-class voter he brings in, he turns off a suburban college-educated woman and energizes 15 Hispanics.


LIASSON: And that's why there's doubts.

INSKEEP: Mara, thanks as always.

LIASSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, talking through the Democratic results primarily last night. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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