The latest polls had Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) trailing former secretary of state Hillary Clinton by more than 20 points in Michigan. But the Vermont senator overcame those odds Tuesday to win a stunning, if narrow, victory.
By the end of the evening, Sanders was leading Clinton 50 to 48 percent, with nearly every precinct reporting.
“This has been a fantastic night in Michigan,” Sanders said in brief remarks from Miami, shortly before the race was called in his favor. “What tonight means is that ... the political revolution that we’re talking about is strong in every part of the country.”
Once written off as a regional curio, Sanders demonstrated Tuesday that he can compete in the industrial Midwest. That should open up opportunities for him next week when delegate-rich Ohio and Illinois hold their primaries.
But Sanders continues to underperform in the South. Even as he won Michigan by a hair, Clinton dominated him in Mississippi on Tuesday, winning the state 83 to 17 percent. By the end of the night, the former secretary of state had won 87 more delegates to the Democratic National Convention, while Sanders took an additional 69.
Clinton now has 760 pledged delegates to Sanders’ 546 — a yawning gap he has less and less time to close.
But the Sanders campaign was clearly elated by the Michigan win. In a statement released after the race was called, the senator crowed about “defying the pundits and pollsters” and said the outcome proved his was “a national campaign.”
“We already have won in the Midwest, New England and the Great Plains, and as more people get to know more about who we are and what our views are we’re going to do very well,” he said.
Sanders’ success seemed to validate his strategy of criticizing Clinton for her past support of free trade agreements many voters blame for shipping jobs overseas. He raised the issue repeatedly in a Sunday debate, in television advertisements and on the stump.
The Vermonter also appeared to make gains with black voters, a demographic group that has largely supported Clinton. In Mississippi, Sanders won just 11 percent of the African American vote, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research. But in Michigan, he did nearly three times as well.
The bulk of Sanders’ support in Michigan still came from younger, whiter, more liberal voters. While Clinton performed better among those who identify as Democrats, independents sided with Sanders 71 to 28 percent.
Sanders plans to spend Wednesday and Thursday in Florida, which, like Ohio and Illinois, votes next Tuesday. Also voting that day are North Carolina and Missouri.