Joe Biden is projected to score decisive wins in Missouri and Mississippi on Tuesday, dealing an early blow to rival Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on a night when six states were up for grabs.
Both men were focused intensely on Michigan, the night’s biggest prize. That’s where the Vermont senator scored an upset that lent much-needed credibility to his 2016 primary challenge of Hillary Clinton — and where President Donald Trump’s victory four years was so narrow that Democrats are desperate to show they have the strength to flip it back.
The former vice president made a final push there in recent days, rallying autoworkers and touting a fresh round of high-profile endorsements.
Beyond Michigan, Sanders could get a boost in Idaho, North Dakota or Washington state, where polls haven’t yet closed.
Adding to the tension of incoming results was fears about the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. Both Sanders and Biden hastily cancelled events they’d scheduled for Tuesday night in Cleveland, and the Democratic National Committee announced that an upcoming debate in Arizona on Sunday would be held without a live audience “at the request of both campaigns and out of an abundance of caution.”
That came hours after Biden rallied workers at a Detroit auto plant.
“You’re the best damn workers in the world,” Biden shouted through a megaphone as workers in hard hats chanted, “Joe! Joe!”
Biden now frequently ticks off the names of six former presidential rivals who have endorsed him just in the past week, saying he is “the candidate that they think can win.” The former vice-president has campaigned in recent days with two of them, Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, and appeared with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. All three have have been mentioned as possible vice presidential picks.
It wasn’t all good feelings, though. While rallying at the auto plant, Biden was interrupted repeatedly by protesters angered by Biden’s support for the North American Free Trade Agreement and reluctance to embrace sweeping environmental proposals outlined in the Green New Deal.
In a scuffle with demonstrators, Biden senior adviser Symone Sanders was knocked to the ground but was unhurt. Less than a week ago, she tackled a protester who rushed the stage as Biden spoke in California.
Biden also endured a testy exchange with a worker who accused him of “actively trying to end our Second Amendment right.” Biden responded, “You’re full of shit,” and went on to say that while he supports the Second Amendment, “Do you need 100 rounds?”
Biden’s gun control plan reinstates the assault weapons ban and includes a voluntary buyback program for assault weapons, stopping short of a mandatory buyback program that some of his opponents had supported in the primary.
Trump won Michigan by only about 10,000 votes in 2016. That was even closer than Pennsylvania or Wisconsin, which, along with Michigan, are credited with handing the president a narrow Electoral College victory even as Hillary Clinton clinched the popular vote.
Sanders, who added credibility to his insurgent 2016 primary challenge of Clinton with a win in Michigan, has predicted he’ll emerge victorious there on Tuesday. If he doesn’t, though, he might be relegated to the role of simple protest candidate as Biden piles up a wide lead in delegates to the Democratic National Convention this summer in Milwaukee.
Although he has rejected notions he could drop out of the race if Tuesday goes badly, Sanders was visiting polling stations in Detroit on Tuesday, scrounging for late-breaking supporters. He’s said he’s now battling the “Democratic establishment” and scoffed at suggestions that so much of the party’s elite supporting his opponent means Biden is more electable.
“In a general election, which candidate can generate the enthusiasm and the excitement and the voter turnout we need?” Sanders asked. “If you want to defeat Trump, which all Democrats do and the majority of independents do and some Republicans do, we are that campaign.”