Sanders pulls out all the stops in Michigan before Tuesday’s primary

Sen. Bernie Sanders at a rally in Ann Arbor, March 8, 2020 | Andrew Roth

After the most eventful week of the 2020 election reshaped the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, both remaining major candidates have turned their attention to Michigan.

A win here could rejuvenate the campaign of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the early leader with wins in New Hampshire and Nevada. But former Vice President Joe Biden won South Carolina on Feb. 29 and then a majority of Super Tuesday states, thus putting him ahead in the delegate count as it stands.

A Sanders loss in Michigan — one of his key 2016 victories — would make his path to the nomination even narrower, possibly creating the media narrative that Biden’s lead would effectively be insurmountable.

“It’s key. It’s a critical race for both candidates,” said Michigan former U.S. Sen. Don Riegle, who has endorsed Sanders.

Riegle was elected in 1966 to the U.S. House as a Republican and later switched parties. He served three terms in the U.S. Senate, from 1976 to 1995, and was part of the ethics investigation known as the Keating Five. 

Both Sanders and Biden want to win the key general election swing state to send the message that they are the best candidate to take on President Donald Trump.

Riegle said that electability argument is the reason candidates like U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg ended their campaigns to endorse Biden ahead of Super Tuesday.

“There’s a big gang up going on against Bernie and there’s an awful lot of people who are part of it because it’s everybody that rides up on the magic carpet of privilege and special benefits in the Democratic Party,” said Riegle. “They think they’ve got a winner and so that’s where they coalesce.”

But Riegle doesn’t believe the electability argument for Biden.

Sen. Bernie Sanders at a rally in Ann Arbor, March 8, 2020 | Andrew Roth

“I think Bernie is the best chance to beat Trump. I can’t prove that today, but I won 16 elections in a row – eight as a Republican, eight as a Democrat – so I’ve seen a lot of elections,” Riegle said. “If he has to run against Bernie Sanders, he’s going to have a real time in a debate. He can’t talk to Bernie Sanders about being for the war in Iraq. And he can’t say that on NAFTA, on the trade issue.”

Scott Van Sice, an Ann Arbor resident who attended Sanders’ rally at the University of Michigan on Sunday, said his supporters are anxious about Sanders’ chances on Tuesday.

“There’s a general sense of anxiety and nervousness around that,” Van Sice said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders rally in Ann Arbor, March 8, 2020 | Andrew Roth

But Van Sice said voters shouldn’t vote for Biden just because he appears to have momentum.

“I feel that we should be living in a place that’s not in fear and voting from our hearts for what’s going to be the best for our own lives, the planet and this country in general,” Van Sice said.

Sanders’ rally in Ann Arbor was one of seven campaign stops the senator planned for the state in the lead up to the March 10 primary. (Surrogates like actor Danny Glover and former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner also participated in five events throughout the state without Sanders present this weekend.)

Starting Friday, the Vermont U.S. senator also held events in Detroit, Dearborn, Flint and Grand Rapids. He has a roundtable schedule Monday in Detroit, as well as a Fox News town hall. Biden has events in Grand Rapids and Detroit scheduled for Monday and has sent surrogates, including Klobchar and former Secretary of State John Kerry, to stump for him.

Rep. Yousef Rabhi at a Sen. Bernie Sanders rally in Ann Arbor, March 8, 2020 | Andrew Roth

State Rep. Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor) expressed a sentiment similar to Van Sice at the rally in Ann Arbor.

“There are those who want America to return to normal. That sounds good. But here’s the thing: normal is actually not good enough. We can do better in America,” Rabhi said. “Because when things were normal, innocent families were still getting deported. When things were normal, Black babies were still getting shot. When things were normal, climate change was plugging along. We can’t afford normal.”

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — who received thunderous applause at the Ann Arbor rally — compared Sanders’ campaign to the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign. Jackson endorsed Sanders on Saturday and joined him at a campaign rally in Grand Rapids on Sunday.

“As Rev. Jackson was running, he came to the state of Michigan, and he won. He won the state of Michigan [in 1988]. And at this point, some of the most powerful, conservative parts of the party really began to panic,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “What we often say is that history often may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme. It does rhyme. And on Tuesday, we can do this again, we can change and we can end that stanza.”

Sanders was optimistic about his chances of repeating his upset 2016 victory this year.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at a Sen. Bernie Sanders rally in Ann Arbor, March 8, 2020 | Andrew Roth

“So here we are a few days before a major primary here in Michigan. And we are taking on, in this campaign, not just Joe Biden. We’re taking on the 60 billionaires who are funding his campaign, we’re taking on the Wall Street executives who are helping to fund his campaign, we’re taking on the corporate establishment, we’re taking on the political establishment. We’re going to win this election,” Sanders said.

“I understand that Joe Biden has the support of the entire political establishment; I got that,” Sanders added. “But we have the support of some of the strongest grassroots movements in this country; we have the support of some of the best unions in this country. And I would 100 times over prefer to have grassroots support than establishment support.”

Regardless of which candidate wins Michigan on Tuesday, Riegle said neither is dropping out any time soon.

“He’s [Sanders] going to go all the way – as he should, because there’s a lot left. We haven’t even counted all the votes yet in California, and it may take another month to get them all,” Riegle said.