- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 8, 2020

For Joseph R. Biden, demographics could be destiny in Michigan.

The former vice president was barreling toward the scrap heap of political history before black voters and baby boomers threw him a lifeline in the South Carolina primary and then across the Super Tuesday contests to revive his flagging bid.

Mr. Biden now is the driver’s seat with polls showing him well-positioned to re-create the same winning coalition of older voters and black voters in Michigan, where Sen. Bernard Sanders upset Hillary Clinton four years ago in the Democratic presidential race.

“Michigan is the Biden coalition,” said Richard Czuba, a Michigan-based pollster. “It is over-50 graying voters. It is a strong African American base, and it is suburban moms.

“That is exactly who we see in the polling who is driving the Biden lead, and it is exactly what we saw on Tuesday night drive his victories,” he said.

The race has boiled down to a virtual two-man contest between avowed socialist Mr. Sanders and the establishment favorite, Mr. Biden.

Mr. Biden reset the race last week after scoring 10 wins on Super Tuesday and leapfrogging past Mr. Sanders in the chase for the 1,991 delegates needed to win the presidential nomination on the first ballot at the Democratic National Convention in July.

Voters in Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Washington also hold nominating contests Tuesday, when a total of 352 delegates are at stake.

The biggest prize is Michigan, where 125 delegates are on the line. The state also has drawn the largest share of attention because of Mr. Sanders’ success there in 2016 and because of its status as a general election battleground.

Donald Trump became the first Republican to win Michigan in a presidential election since George H.W. Bush in 1988.

Michigan will be the first industrial Midwestern state to vote in the 2020 Democratic presidential race. For Mr. Sanders, a victory there could turn the tide. For Mr. Biden, a victory there would be a devastating blow to Mr. Sanders.

Divisions between the two septuagenarians sharpened over the weekend.

Mr. Sanders criticized Mr. Biden’s record on trade and entitlement programs and accused him of taking too much credit for President Obama’s accomplishments.

Mr. Sanders held a series of campaign rallies and events in Michigan over the weekend.

On Sunday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez headlined an event at the University of Michigan and the Rev. Jesse Jackson gave his endorsement to the 78-year-old.

“With the exception of Native Americans, African Americans are the people who are most behind socially and economically in the United States and our needs are not moderate,” Mr. Jackson said in a statement. “A people far behind cannot catch up choosing the most moderate path. The most progressive social and economic path gives us the best chance to catch up and Senator Bernie Sanders represents the most progressive path.”

Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California became the latest former rival of Mr. Biden to rally behind him.

Mr. Biden got a Super Tuesday bounce, according to a Detroit News poll released last week. The poll showed Mr. Biden with a 29% to 23% lead over Mr. Sanders. A whopping 84% of older voters and 73% of black voters said they have a favorable impression of Mr. Biden.

“They adore Joe Biden,” Mr. Czuba said. “Those are not the numbers that Hillary Clinton had four years ago.”

Mr. Sanders is hoping the polls are wrong just as they were in 2016, when Mrs. Clinton lost despite carrying double-digit leads in pre-primary surveys.

Mr. Biden, however, has shown more strength than Mrs. Clinton did with union households and white working-class voters in upstate Michigan and more rural areas — key parts of the winning Sanders coalition in 2016.

“The other change is that Sanders’ national coalition has remained about the same size, but he has traded white working class and white rural voters for Latino voters, which is an awful trade for Michigan,” said Matt Grossmann, a political science professor at Michigan State University. “We only have about 3% Hispanic population, and we have a very large white, working-class population. So if that trend continues, it would be worse for Sanders than last time.”

Seeking to blunt Mr. Biden’s mojo, Mr. Sanders started airing a pair of television ads in Michigan last week drawing a contrast with his support for the North American Free Trade Agreement and highlighting Mr. Biden’s onetime pledge to freeze all federal spending, including for Social Security.

Mr. Sanders has had strong support from young voters, but they have not turned out at the rate the Sanders campaign was hoping, forcing him to expand his support among the 65-plus crowd.

Mr. Sanders also is trying to put distance between Mr. Biden and Mr. Obama. He started airing an ad last week in which Mr. Obama sings praise for Mr. Sanders.

“Bernie is someone who has the virtue of saying exactly what he believes — great authenticity, great passion and is fearless,” Mr. Obama says in the ad.

On Sunday, Mr. Sanders said the former vice president exaggerated his importance as Mr. Obama’s sidekick when tough decisions were made, such as spending $80 billion to prop up Chrysler and General Motors Co. during the Great Recession.

“The auto bailout was done by the Obama administration, and it was a step forward. But I think sometimes Joe is taking a little bit of credit as vice president for initiatives that were led by President Obama and by many members of the Congress,” Mr. Sanders said on “Fox News Sunday.”

⦁ S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

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