Joe Biden was projected to win Michigan’s Democratic presidential contest on Tuesday, taking a big step toward the nomination and dealing a crushing blow to rival Bernie Sanders’ fading White House hopes.
Biden, the former vice president under Barack Obama, also was projected to capture Missouri and Mississippi by Edison Research and television networks, as six states made their choices in the race to challenge U.S. President Donald Trump.
The wins put Biden, 77, on a path to the nomination to face the Republican Trump in the Nov. 3 election after becoming the front-runner with a series of sweeping wins over Sanders, 78, in last week’s Super Tuesday contests.
Sanders, a democratic socialist and U.S. senator from Vermont, had hoped an upset win in Michigan would keep his dwindling White House hopes alive. But he appeared to fall far short, leaving the future of his White House bid up in the air.
With 35 percent of the precincts reporting, Biden was leading in Michigan with 53 percent of the vote, ahead of 41 percent for Sanders.
A Biden breakthrough in Michigan, along with his big victories in Missouri and Mississippi, could prove too much for Sanders to overcome. By the end of March, about two-thirds of the delegates will be allocated.
A total of 352 of the nearly 4,000 delegates to July’s Democratic convention were up for grabs in the six states voting on Tuesday, with Michigan the biggest with 125 delegates. The Democratic nominee will challenge the Republican Trump, 73, in a Nov. 3 election.
Many Sanders supporters on social media appeared to be devastated by the results.
We just want different things. We’re going in different directions. It’s not you. It’s us. We’ve just outgrown your gaslighting.
— Benjamin Dixon (@BenjaminPDixon) March 11, 2020
Some even vowed to leave the Democratic party.
Bernie is the last chance of saving the Party.
— FriendlyNeighborhoodSocialist (@JoshuaWhitecot1) March 11, 2020
Others urged fellow Sanders supporters not to despair.
I would add that I already tried that in response to my student loans in 2015. I have a daughter, now. I’ll just be trying to figure out how to leave the country or sleep under a bridge so she never needs student loans. Money < important than life. But, still pissed.
— Su Zhenn¥ (@jennifersussex) March 11, 2020
Biden was powered to the early victories on Tuesday by strong support from a broad coalition of groups, including women, African Americans, those aged 45 and older, and all but the very liberal, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research.
As in earlier states, Biden’s support was especially strong among black voters. In Mississippi, where two-thirds of the electorate was African-American, Biden won more than eight of every 10 black voters.
Washington and Idaho also held contests on Tuesday. There was no immediate projection for North Dakota, and polls close later in the three other states.
As fears spread about the coronavirus, voters in Michigan said they trusted Biden more than Sanders to handle a major crisis, according to exit polls.
The polling in Michigan showed about half of voters more trusted Biden in a crisis, compared to one-third who more trusted Sanders, Biden’s last viable rival in the race.
Since last week’s Super Tuesday romps, Biden has roared into the national lead in polling and delegates, knocked out all remaining viable rivals except Sanders and swept up a wave of endorsements from former contenders such as Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker.
Biden, who has touted the Obama administration’s decision to bail out the auto industry, made a morning campaign stop at Detroit’s first new auto assembly plant in decades, owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.
“Unions built the country,” Biden shouted through a bullhorn. “You’re the best damn workers in the world.”
But his visit was marred by a clash with one worker who suggested he planned to confiscate Americans’ guns. Biden, whose propensity to veer off script occasionally causes self-inflicted wounds, snapped at the worker using an obscenity.
Sanders has attacked Biden for supporting international trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement, which is unpopular among many of Michigan’s workers who say it has cost the state jobs. As Biden left the plant, video showed some workers chanting, “Trump!”
(Reporting by Michael Martina and Trevor Hunnicutt; Writing by John Whitesides in Washington; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Howard Goller. Pluralist contributed to this report.)