WASHINGTON (AP) — Joe Biden decisively won Michigan’s Democratic presidential primary, seizing a key battleground state that helped propel Bernie Sanders’ insurgent candidacy four years ago. The former vice president’s victory there, as well as in Missouri, Mississippi and Idaho, dealt a serious blow to Sanders and substantially widened Biden’s path to the nomination.
Biden again showed strength Tuesday with working-class voters and African Americans, who are vital to winning the Democratic nomination.
Sanders won North Dakota and awaited results from Washington state. Washington’s primary was too early to call, and because all votes there are cast by mail or by dropping them off in a ballot box, many ballots were marked for candidates who have since dropped out of the race.
The six-state contest Tuesday marked the first time voters weighed in on the primary since it effectively narrowed to a two-person race between Sanders and Biden. And the first four states on Tuesday went to Biden, a dramatic reversal for a campaign that appeared on the brink of collapse just two weeks ago. Now it is Sanders, whose candidacy was ascendant so recently, who must contemplate a path forward.
Addressing supporters in Philadelphia, Biden noted that many had “declared that this candidacy was dead” only days ago, but “now we’re very much alive.” He also asked Sanders supporters to back him going forward.
“We need you, we want you, and there’s a place in our campaign for each of you. I want to thank Bernie Sanders and his supporters for their tireless energy and their passion,” Biden said. “We share a common goal, and together we’ll beat Donald Trump.”
Even as the contours of the race came into shape, however, new uncertainty was sparked by fears of the spreading coronavirus. Both candidates abruptly canceled rallies in Ohio that were scheduled for Tuesday night. That set the stage for Biden’s remarks in Philadelphia, while Sanders flew home to Vermont and didn’t plan to address the public.
Sanders’ campaign also said all future events would be decided on a case-by-case basis given public health concerns, while Biden called off a scheduled upcoming Florida stop. Still, the former vice president said Tuesday night that he’d be announcing plans to combat the coronavirus later this week.
Bradley Beychok, president and co-founder of American Bridge 21st Century, a liberal super PAC, said his group “will be ALL IN to elect @JoeBiden as our next president.” The organization is spending millions of dollars trying to win over people who backed President Donald Trump in key states in 2016.
Guy Cecil, chairman of the flagship Democratic outside political organization Priorities USA, tweeted: “The math is now clear. Joe Biden is going to be the Democratic nominee for President and @prioritiesUSA is going to do everything we can to help him defeat Donald Trump in November.”
There were other major warning signs for Sanders on Tuesday. He again struggled to win support from black voters. About 70% of Mississippi’s Democratic primary voters were African American, and 86% of them supported Biden, according to an AP VoteCast survey of the electorate.
After Sanders upset Hillary Clinton in Michigan four years ago, his loss there Tuesday was particularly sobering. It undermined his argument that he could appeal to working-class voters and that he could expand the electorate with new young voters.
One of the few bright notes for Sanders was his strength among young voters, but even that has a downside because they didn’t turn out enough to keep him competitive. Sanders won 72% of those under 30 in Missouri and 65% in Michigan, according to AP VoteCast. The senator was also about even with Biden among voters ages 30 to 44.
“There’s no sugarcoating it. Tonight’s a tough night,” New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of Sanders’ highest-profile supporters, said on Instagram. “Tonight’s a tough night for the movement overall. Tonight’s a tough night electorally.”
According to an Associated Press analysis, Biden picked up at least 177 new delegates in Tuesday’s voting while Sanders got 111.
Although six states voted, Michigan, with its 125 delegates, got most of the attention. Trump won the state by only 10,704 votes during the general election, his closest margin of victory among Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Those states gave Trump the narrow edge in the 2016 Electoral College after Clinton won the popular vote.
Sanders has vowed not to drop out regardless of Tuesday’s results and frequently railed against the “Democratic establishment” that he says has aligned against him.