Michigan provided the high-water mark of Sen. Bernard Sanders’ presidential campaign earlier this year, and the Vermont senator returned to the state Thursday with a new mission: to get his supporters to the polls for onetime rival Hillary Clinton in November.
Mr. Sanders held four rallies across Michigan, beginning in Dearborn Thursday morning and finishing with an evening speech in Grand Rapids. The swing state recently has turned strongly in Mrs. Clinton’s favor, as recent polling shows her up by double digits.
But Mr. Sanders told voters that turnout will be key to a victory over Republican Donald Trump. His pitch was less an endorsement of his primary foe and more of a plea for Americans to examine Mr. Trump’s policies and reject them.
“Now, I read the polls. I understand that neither Hillary Clinton [nor] Donald Trump are particularly popular — I get that,” he told a crowd at a United Auto Workers post in Dearborn. “But forget about that for a moment. Take a hard look at the agendas. This campaign is not about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. It is about you and your families and your kids.”
The senator said he disagrees with Mr. Trump on “almost everything,” though the two share common ground in their deep opposition to many trade deals the U.S. has entered into.
Specific issues, however, are overshadowed by the very nature of Mr. Trump’s campaign, Mr. Sanders said.
“But Mr. Trump’s campaign is different than any campaign in the modern history of our country … for one reason,” he said. “It’s not his economic policies. It’s not his environmental policies. The reason that Trump’s campaign is particularly dangerous and un-American is that he has made the cornerstone of his campaign bigotry.”
Mr. Sanders’ whirlwind tour through Michigan came on the same day that a new Detroit Free Press/WXYZ TV poll showed Mrs. Clinton with a whopping 11-point lead over Mr. Trump. Last month polls showed the former first lady ahead by just 3 points.
Mrs. Clinton herself will return to Michigan on Monday, following her presidential debate against Mr. Trump, and will campaign in Detroit.
While Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders now are working together to put Michigan in the Democratic column on Nov. 8, the state was the site of perhaps the most unexpected moment of their bitter primary battle.
Heading into that March contest, virtually all polls showed Mrs. Clinton with a significant double-digit lead, yet Mr. Sanders was able to squeak out a narrow win and temporarily give his campaign new life.
Michigan Republicans want to remind voters of the nasty nature of the Clinton-Sanders primary battle in the hopes Sanders supporters will back Mr. Trump in November. GOP leaders in the state on Thursday touted the fact that Mrs. Clinton at a private fundraiser in February said many Sanders supporters “live in their parents’ basement,” a slight the senator has said he actually agrees with.
Still, the insult has provided fresh fuel in Republicans’ fight to keep Sanders supporters from lining up behind the former secretary of state.
“While a majority of Democrats in Michigan were feeling the Bern during the Democratic primary, they ultimately were burned by a rigged system in Hillary Clinton’s favor,” said Ronna Romney McDaniel, chair of the Michigan GOP. “Now these supporters are being attacked by Hillary Clinton in private fundraisers. Those struggling under the Clinton and Obama economy shouldn’t be putting their support behind a candidate who doesn’t respect them and continues to push for the status quo.”
While the vast majority of Democrats say they’ll support Mrs. Clinton in November, she’s struggling to win over young voters in the way Mr. Sanders did during the primary. Just 31 percent of millennials say they’ll support Mrs. Clinton, recent polling has shown.