- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Sen. Bernard Sanders‘ shocking win in the Michigan primary did more than add drama to the Democratic presidential race — it also brought to the fore some of Hillary Clinton’s flaws that could pose problems for her in a general election.

In the blue-collar state, Mr. Sanders won white working-class voters and young Americans by significant margins while cutting into Mrs. Clinton’s massive lead among blacks. The senator from Vermont, a self-described democratic socialist, also scored big with those who said they were angry at government, bolstering the Sanders campaign’s claim that he, not Mrs. Clinton, is the party’s best hope in November.

That could be especially true if Republicans nominate Donald Trump, who, like Mr. Sanders, also has tapped into voters’ anger and resentment toward Washington. Polls show the senator does better than Mrs. Clinton against Mr. Trump.

As the Democratic race heads to other crucial Midwestern states such as Ohio and Illinois, which also have large populations of blue-collar white voters fed up with Washington, the Clinton campaign ought to be worried and should be looking to tweak its message to better appeal to the working class, political analysts say.

“I think what is interesting from the exit polls was the proportion of voters on both sides who are angry with the federal government. Perhaps not so surprising in Michigan. Clearly, not good for Clinton,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College.

Indeed, exit polls reveal trends that should concern the Clinton campaign. According to NBC News surveys, 81 percent of voters ages 18 to 29 broke for Mr. Sanders, and they made up about 20 percent of the Michigan electorate. Mr. Sanders also won 55 percent of voters ages 30 to 44.

He also garnered the support of 57 percent of white voters and 70 percent of independents who voted in the Michigan Democratic primary, according to NBC, again highlighting Mrs. Clinton’s heavy reliance on minorities this cycle and her struggles with other groups.

Her strong performance with minority voters, particularly blacks, has been key to her total domination of Southern primaries, including her blowout win in Mississippi on Tuesday night.

It’s a marked change from 2008, when Mrs. Clinton relied on white voters while Barack Obama forged a coalition of young voters and minorities to ultimately win the nomination.

Perhaps the most damning figure for Mrs. Clinton is the number of voters who are angry or disenfranchised with Washington and how heavily those voters are breaking for Mr. Sanders.

About 20 percent of Michigan Democrats said they are angry with the federal government, and of those, 60 percent voted for Mr. Sanders, according to CNN exit polls. Another 51 percent of voters said they are merely dissatisfied with the federal government, but that group also broke for Mr. Sanders by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin.

Analysts say Mr. Sanders has succeeded in connecting Mrs. Clinton to the Washington-Wall Street axis of power by highlighting her high-priced speeches to Goldman Sachs and her Wall Street-funded super PAC. For those reasons and others, Mrs. Clinton is a less-appealing candidate to working-class Americans than she was eight years ago.

“He has inflicted some damage on her because of his emphasis on income inequality combined with his focus on the speeches she gave to Wall Street firms, and so he has cut into her ability to attract middle-class voters,” said Michael Traugott, a political science professor at the University of Michigan. “There’s no denying that she is on top of her game discussing specific policies, but her ability to connect with the average Democratic voter in the primaries is limited.”

There is mounting doubt that Mrs. Clinton could be the unbeatable general election candidate her campaign portrays her to be. Weighing in on the Democratic primary, Mr. Trump on Wednesday said Mrs. Clinton wouldn’t do well in a general election.

“There’s no spirit behind Hillary. There never will be,” the real estate mogul said. “There’s nothing to be spirited about.”

Indeed, polls consistently have shown that Mr. Sanders does much better against Mr. Trump than does Mrs. Clinton, though almost all surveys have the former first lady coming out ahead in that matchup.

The latest Real Clear Politics average of all polls shows Mr. Sanders beating Mr. Trump in a hypothetical November contest by 10 points, while Mrs. Clinton wins by 6 points.

Still, the Clinton campaign is rejecting the idea that an inability to appeal to working-class white voters will doom the candidate in the Midwestern primaries. The campaign also pushed back against the idea that Mr. Sanders‘ Michigan win was a turning point in the race and pointed to Mrs. Clinton’s more than 2-1 lead in the delegate race.

“We are nearing the point where the delegate lead effectively will become insurmountable,” Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook told reporters on a conference call. “Even in a scenario where Sen. Sanders were to win all three of the states he is targeting in the Midwest we would still expect to win significantly more delegates on the 15th based not only on our strong showings in those same three states, but our performance in the very delegate-rich states of Florida and North Carolina.”

In addition to Florida and North Carolina, elections are scheduled Tuesday in Illinois, Ohio and Missouri.

Polls show Mrs. Clinton ahead in all of those states, but Mr. Sanders clearly believes he has momentum.

“Next Tuesday is the most important night for our campaign to date,” the senator said in an email to supporters. “Five large states vote, and we have all the momentum. And what we’ve shown is that when we come together, we have what it takes to overcome what was once thought to be an inevitable campaign.”

David Sherfinski contributed to this report.

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