The great state of Michigan was oh-so-kind to Bernie Sanders four years ago, bringing him back from the dead against a Clinton political machine that looked insurmountable after multiple wins across the south on Super Tuesday. But if Sanders was hoping for Michigan to resurrect his presidential campaign for a second time, the septuagenarian will hit the pillow tonight disappointed and perhaps even flummoxed at Joe Biden’s remarkable turnaround.
With 55 per cent of the vote in, the networks called Michigan for Biden, who swept the cities (with the exception of Grand Rapids, the progressive centre of the state courtesy of its many colleges and universities) and outperformed Hillary Clinton’s margins four years ago in the all-important suburbs.
Biden dominated across-the-board. In Oakland County, northwest of Detroit, Sanders was able to keep Clinton’s win to within about 8,000 votes four years ago. Sanders didn’t have the same luck this time; with 75 per cent of the vote counted at the time of posting, Biden had a lead of approximately 50,700 votes. In 2016, Clinton won Macomb County by just over 1,300 votes. Tonight, Biden won the county by over 15,000 (and with only 75 per cent of the vote in, that lead is likely to grow during the night). In Genesee County, where the city of Flint resides, Clinton bested Sanders by about 3,000 votes. Tonight, Biden mopped the floor with Sanders in the county by over 16,000 votes.
As Biden increased his total in the suburbs, Sanders couldn’t hold his own in the heartland. When Clinton was his only opponent, the senator from Vermont was able to dominate the rural counties in the north and west and win the state’s upper peninsula with the exception of a single county. Sanders’s performance in the upper peninsula tonight was dreadful compared to his 2016 effort. Further south, Sanders retained his control of Kent County, home to Grand Rapids. But his victory wasn’t all that impressive, certainly not compared to the 25-percentage point blowout he delivered to Clinton four years ago.
Michigan was the bellwether for the entire contest tonight. Mississippi, a southern state with a large African-American population, was called for Biden as soon as the polling centres closed. Exit polls showed Biden winning 87 per cent of African Americans and 67 per cent of whites, 78 per cent of college graduates, and 81 per cent of non-college gradates. Biden even topped Sanders among 17-29 year olds. The Vermonter was barely hovering above the 15 per cent benchmark that is needed to score delegates and could very well find himself unviable when the vote count is done. Missouri was almost the same story, where the former vice president was the most popular candidate for moderates college graduates, African Americans, whites, and pretty much every demographic in the state outside of young voters and liberals.
Forgot about the statistics for a second, because the big point is even more important: Joe Biden, the two-term vice president of the United States and three-time presidential candidate, is going to be the Democratic party’s presidential nominee to square off against the incumbent Donald Trump. A campaign that looked so exciting and promising for Bernie Sanders last month is now dead in its tracks, with nothing to show for it minus a resounding win in Nevada, a squeaker in New Hampshire, and giant crowds at his rallies. Notwithstanding his inspirational rhetoric about slapping the billionaires around and destroying the Democratic establishment from the outside, the Democratic establishment’s favourite candidate proved too powerful to overcome.
The democratic socialist firebrand may stay in the race a little while yet, if only to use this weekend’s coming debate as an opportunity to remind the Democratic party writ-large that it has a lot of work to do if it hopes to bring the Sandinistas into the tent for the general election. But don’t let dilly-dallying fool you: this Democratic primary campaign is over.