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Michigan Primary Pivotal For Sanders-Biden Race

Bernie Sanders at his Grand Rapids rally on Sunday.
Abigail Censky/WKAR MSU
People gathered a rally for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in downtown Grand Rapids, which drew more than 7,000 people on Sunday, March 8th 2020.

Michigan voters go to the polls Tuesday to pick who they think should win the Democratic nomination. A win in the battleground state – which helped Donald Trump win the presidency four years ago- could be pivotal for both Democratic frontrunners – Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. 

A version of this story originally aired on Here & Now.

In 2016 Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders won Michigan’s primary, in a huge upset against Hillary Clinton.

The weekend ahead of the democratic primary that year, polls reported Clinton had a 25-point lead over Sanders, before he won with a narrow victory.

Bernie Sanders rally in Grand Rapids.
Credit Abigail Censky/WKAR MSU
People gathered a rally for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in downtown Grand Rapids, which drew more than 7,000 people on Sunday, March 8th 2020. .


This past Sunday, at a rally with more than 7,000 people in Grand Rapids he pleaded for their votes, so he could pull off another upset.

“2016, I won the state, and on Tuesday, if we stick together if we bring our friends out to vote, we’re gonna win it again,” said Sanders.

Sanders spent the weekend in Michigan cancelling rallies in Mississippi and Missouri to drum up enthusiasm in the state.

But winning Michigan may prove to be more difficult this time around. According to the most recent poll from the Detroit Free Press, former Vice President Joe Biden has a 24-point lead over Sanders going into Tuesday.

In the line outside of the Grand Rapids rally Mike Farrell said he was initially an Amy Klobuchar supporter but now he’s trying to decide who he’ll vote for on Tuesday.

“I really like what Bernie has to say, but I’m a little worried about voter turnout for him. But I think the biggest priority at this point is getting Donald Trump out of the office," said Farrell.

Further down in line, Brandon Gregory, said he’ll be supporting Sanders for the second time. He’s not worried about electability.

"I feel like there are a big wave of people who are against him, and that’s unfortunate," Gregory said. "But I feel like you listen to what he has to say, so many more people align with what he says compared to what other people in the race have to say, like Joe Biden for instance.”

Emily Carbonell-Ferguson is one of those voters. She was wearing an Elizabeth Warren shirt. Warren was her first choice, but now she’s going to vote for Sanders. She said she knows a lot of Warren supporters who haven’t decided who they’ll support now.

“Honestly if the debate were for the Michigan primary, I think that Biden would have a lot more to prove, because I don’t think he’ll perform as well. But, because there isn’t that opportunity for like a big public speaking opportunity, you can’t compare," said Carbonell Ferguson.

A Sanders victory in Michigan depends on high youth turnout, and steady turnout of white-working class voters. A Biden victory depends on suburban, white working class, and black voter turnout.

Matt Grossman, a political scientist at Michigan State University, said a path to a Michigan win on Tuesday will be difficult for Sanders.

“If it’s the case that Biden just has more indigenous support in rural areas and with white working-class voters than Hillary Clinton did, which certainly is possible, then I think it will be hard for Sanders. And it shows that some of Sanders support last time was really kind of an anti-Clinton vote rather than a pro-sanders vote.”

Across town in Grand Rapids, recently ousted candidate Amy Klobuchar, is stumping for Joe Biden at a brewery in front of a crowd of about 250 people.

Amy Klobuchar holds rally in Grand Rapids to support Joe Biden.
Credit Abigail Censky/WKAR MSU
Crowds gathered for an Amy Klobuchar for Biden rally at Creston Brewery in Grand Rapids Saturday March 7th, 2020


“So, we can have our own Super Tuesday, in Michigan, just because it’s such a super big state. So, we’re going to do this, and we’re going to do it, so I ask you to join me in supporting Joe Biden. We’re going to win this," Klobuchar said.

After Klobuchar finishes rallying the crowd Carl Kelly, said he would vote for either Democratic candidate.

I just think he has a better chance of beating Trump. It’s not that I like Biden any more than I like Sanders, but I just think he has a better chance of winning the election," said Kelly.

Outside, waiting in line, Colleen Burns agreed with Kelly.

“There’s a lot of people that I know that actually are Republicans that have been on the fence. And they would not cross the fence for Bernie, but they definitely will for Joe,” Burns said.

Going into today’s primary, many Democrats in Michigan agree on only one thing according to Kelly, they’ll support whoever gets the Democratic nomination.

Abigail Censky reported on Politics & Government at WKAR from 2018 to 2021. Now, she reports for The Colorado Springs Gazette and edits for The Catalyst Newspaper.
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