Bernie Sanders needs Michigan win today to close gap with Hillary Clinton

Democratic front-runner plays on senator’s poor debate performance in Rust Belt state

Democratic US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and rival Bernie Sanders speak  during the candidates’ debate in Flint, Michigan on Sunday. Photograph: Reuters/Jim Young

Democratic US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and rival Bernie Sanders speak during the candidates’ debate in Flint, Michigan on Sunday. Photograph: Reuters/Jim Young

 

Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator chasing Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, faces a big test in Michigan today when the state votes in the third day of multistate contests in the US presidential race.

Sanders, the democratic socialist whose upstart campaign has given the presumptive nominee an unexpected run for her money, must show he can beat Clinton in a more ethnically diverse state such as Michigan where African Americans make up 15 per cent of the population.

She took advantage of a strong performance in Sunday night’s seventh Democratic debate – held in Flint, Michigan – to highlight the majority-black city’s water crisis by running ads in the Rust Belt state yesterday hammering Sanders’s opposition to Barack Obama’s 2009 bailout of the car industry that helped protect Michigan’s jobs and economy.

The 74-year-old senator appeared flat-footed when he responded angrily to Clinton’s charge during the debate that he had voted against Obama’s rescue of the motor industry. Sanders actually voted for a package for the industry in December 2008 but against a larger $700 million (€635 million) bailout in January 2009 that was mostly used to prop up Wall Street.

Clinton scored a big hit when Sanders failed to explain this well.

Fierce exchanges

“I voted to save the auto industry,” said Clinton to applause from the crowd. “He voted against the money that ended up saving the auto industry. I think that is a pretty big difference.”

“Well, if you are talking about the Wall Street bailout, where some of your friends destroyed this economy,” Sanders shot back.

When Clinton tried to interrupt him, Sanders cut off her with: “Excuse me, I’m talking,” drawing gasps from the audience.

“If you’re gonna talk, tell the whole story, Senator Sanders,” she said.

“Let me tell my story. You tell yours,” he responded.

The senator came across as condescending and hectoring at times, bristling in his responses to Clinton: “Let me finish, please!” and “Could I finish? You’ll have your turn, all right?”

Amid clashes on gun control, trade deals and race relations, Sanders showed a crudely simplistic view when asked about his racial blind spots, clumsily implying that there were no poor whites and only poor blacks.

“When you are white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in a ghetto,” he said. “You don’t know what it’s like to be poor.

“You don’t know what it’s like to be hassled when you walk down the street or you get dragged out of a car.”

Clinton lead

Sanders enters the Michigan primary with three victories – Kansas, Nebraska and Maine on Sunday – in the last four states but Clinton still has a far superior delegate tally. She has 1,147 delegates, including 471 superdelegate party leaders and elected officials, to Sanders’s 498. (Some 2,383 are required to win.)

The Vermont socialist has pledged to fight all the way to the Democratic National Convention in July but he needs to win Michigan if he has any hope of keeping pace with Clinton.

Democrats and Republicans also vote in Mississippi today, while Republicans in Hawaii and Idaho go to the primary polls too.

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