COLUMBUS, Ohio — Seeking to stitch together back-to-back Rust Belt wins in the Democratic presidential race, Sen. Bernard Sanders courted college students at Ohio State University and accused Hillary Clinton of supporting “disastrous” free trade deals.
Mr. Sanders stunned pollsters and pundits last week by edging out Mrs. Clinton in the Michigan primary, injecting new energy into his insurgent bid and raising questions about Mrs. Clinton’s strength as the likely Democratic nominee.
Speaking before a raucous crowd, Mr. Sanders said the nation’s trade deals have led to the shuttering of tens of thousands of factories, killed millions of decent paying job and reduced wages for American workers — all while yielding more profits for corporate America.
“Employers are saying to workers, ‘You’ve got two choices: You can accept a reduction in wages and benefits, or else we are moving to China. Your choice,’” Mr. Sanders said. “Well, that is not a choice American workers should have to make. Not only did I vote against all of those trade agreements, I helped lead the opposition.
“Now I am going to have to tell you that Secretary Clinton has had a very different position on trade than I have,” Mr. Sanders said.
He said Mrs. Clinton backed the North American Free Trade Agreement in the 1990s and normalizing trade with China, and flip-flopped on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
“Our job is to kill this disastrous trade deal. We have to kill TPP and start all over, creating trade agreements that work for the workers of this country,” he said, sparking applause.
Mr. Sanders is trailing the former first lady in Ohio by almost 18 percentage points, according to the Real Clear Politics average. But the latest CBS News/YouGov. found Mrs. Clinton’s lead has been trimmed to 9 percentage points, suggesting Mr. Sanders got a bump from his win in Michigan.
Looking to distance himself from Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Sanders told the crowd that he opposed the Iraq War and she supported it. He said that he has not taken donations from corporate America and that she has raised millions of dollars from Wall Street.
The Clinton campaign, meanwhile, has been stressing that she is well-positioned to win the nomination given her lead in the delegate chase and signaling they believe the Sanders’ campaign is not built for success over the long haul
Mr. Clinton leads Mr. Sanders by a 776 to 551 margin among pledged delegates from the primaries and caucuses, and holds a massive 465 to 25 lead among the party’s “superdelegates” — a pool comprising elected officials and party leaders who are not bound by the votes in the nomination contests.
Entering the five contests Tuesday, Mrs. Clinton is polling well ahead of Mr. Sanders in Florida and North Carolina and up 7 percentage points in Missouri, according to a Docking Institute of Public Affairs Poll for Missouri newspapers.
Mrs. Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, campaigned for his wife Sunday night in North Carolina and is scheduled to stump there Monday. Her daughter, Chelsea, plans to campaign for her Monday in Missouri.
The good news for Mr. Sanders is he has edged out in front of Mrs. Clinton in the latest poll in Illinois and appears to be gaining traction in Ohio.
But John C. Green, a political science professor at the University of Akron, said Mr. Sanders faces an uphill climb.
“Sanders pulled off an upset in Michigan, so the Clinton people have been forewarned,” Mr. Green said. “I’d be very surprised if they haven’t adapted their strategy to cope with Sanders after the Michigan loss.”
Mr. Sanders has mopped up among young voters and often outperformed Mrs. Clinton among college graduates, including in Michigan.
The 74-year-old bolstered his image further with young voters this week after scoring a victory in court when a judge ruled in his favor that 17-year-olds will be allowed to vote in Tuesday’s primaries, as long as they turn 18 before Election Day.
Mr. Sanders looked to tap into that energy again Sunday at the University of Ohio, calling for changes to the criminal justice system, overhauling campaign finance laws and raising the minimum age to $15 per hour. He also said it is time to rethink the war on drugs by removing marijuana from the schedule of controlled substances regulated by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“At the end of the day, love Trumps hatred,” he said.
Mr. Sanders received a hero’s welcome from the crowd, which carried “Feel the Bern” signs and joined in chants of “Bernie Sanders has our back, we don’t need no super PAC!” and “White, Brown and Black, Bernie’s got your back.”