Shortly after all polls closed at 9 p.m., former Vice President Joe Biden was declared the winner of the crucial battleground state of Michigan by multiple media outlets, which may signal the end of a hard-fought Democratic presidential primary.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) drew huge crowds in Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor and Detroit rallies over the weekend and sported a strong and enthusiastic activist base in Michigan. But he failed to win the same mix of young, white blue-collar and rural voters that propelled him to a surprise win over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016.
With roughly 82% of precincts reporting, as of 12:25 a.m., according to unofficial returns from the Associated Press, Biden leads Sanders 53% to 38%. That’s a 15-point margin.
Sanders and Biden both canceled their speeches in Ohio amid coronavirus concerns and the former flew back to Burlington, Vt. Biden extended an olive branch to Sanders’ progressive supporters in a speech in Philadelphia, where he kicked off his campaign.
“This campaign is taking off and I believe we’re going to do well from this point on — [but I] take nothing for granted, want to earn every single vote in every single state,” Biden said. “But if you’re willing, if you want to join us. … We need you. We want you. There’s a place in our campaign for [you]. And I want to thank Bernie Sanders and his supporters for their tireless energy, and their passion. We share a common goal. And together, we’ll defeat [President] Donald Trump.”
The Great Lakes State was seen as the biggest prize of the night, with more delegates up for grabs (125) than any of the other five states that also voted today. Biden was also able to clinch projected wins in both Missouri and Mississippi within minutes of polls closing.
Even with most of Michigan’s delegates going to Biden, who maitains a lead, neither he nor Sanders have yet to meet the halfway mark to the 1,991 delegates required to clinch the nomination; and 23 states and four U.S. territories still have upcoming primaries and caucuses.
However, with Sanders declining to give a speech or public statement on the results Tuesday — and deciding to return to his home state — it’s unclear if he will choose to stay in the race.
In a fundraising email sent out before Michigan was called, the Sanders campaign wrote: “Please know this: once again, tonight’s results are going to get better for us as the night goes on. We expect to do well out west where the polls close late, and Michigan may not even come in until tomorrow.
“And no matter what the pundits on television are saying tonight, the super PACs and the political establishment will be looking to see what happens when the votes are all counted — how many states we win, and how many states Biden wins. And if we do well tonight, they are going to come at us with even more money than they spent to try to beat us in the first number of states. It will make the millions we’ve faced down look like child’s play.”
In his speech, Biden cast himself, as he did in a Detroit speech Monday, as the candidate who can bridge divides in the party and across the country.
“Just the past week, so many of my incredibly capable competitors have endorsed me,” he said. “… [former South Bend, Ind., Mayor] Pete Buttigieg, [U.S. Sen.] Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), [former U.S. Rep..] Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), [businessman] Mike Bloomberg, [U.S. Sen.] Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and [U.S. Sen.] Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).
“Together — together, we’re bringing this party together. That’s what we have to do. Tonight, we are a step closer to restoring decency, dignity and honor to the White House. That’s our ultimate goal.”
Sanders barnstormed across Michigan with eight events in four days and deployed surrogates, including U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), former gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Biden held three events Monday and had several surrogates in Michigan for the last four days, including Harris, Booker, Klobuchar, former Secretary of State John Kerry, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and his spouse, former second lady Jill Biden.
Trump won the Michigan Republican primary early on, with more than 90%. The candidate in second place was “uncommitted.”
The Tuesday primary was Michigan’s first election with new laws making it easier to vote, including same-day voter registration and no-reason absentee voting.
At a Detroit press conference at about 9:30 p.m., Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson gave an update on the results and stressed that a “full picture” of the Michigan primary vote will not be clear until Wednesday afternoon amid the influx in early vote and same-day registration made possible by new voting laws. Benson said this is due to the fact that many precincts low on resources and staff will need to work through the night to count all votes.
A number of Michiganders were still waiting in line past 8 p.m. in locations including East Lansing and Ann Arbor. Lines were particularly long on college campuses, as the Advance reported. Clerks were also deluged with almost 13,160 same-day voter registrants, making for excessively long lines.
“People should not have to miss a day of work to exercise their right to vote. This is an outrage. Election officials must address these problems immediately, and if necessary, keep polling places open longer,” Sanders said in a statement before polls closed in Michigan.
Local clerks also could not start processing absentee ballots until 7 a.m. Tuesday, adding to the big workload. At her news conference, Benson once again called for the Republican-led state Legislature to change a statute which would allow clerks to process absentee ballots sooner.
Benson said that thanks to the new voting laws, Michigan saw a “significant surge in absentee votes.” Almost 1 million absentee ballots were requested across the state, and about 95% of those were returned.
The coronavirus is expected to take a toll on the campaign going forward, as it’s unclear if there will be rallies as the outbreak is spreading. Michigan announced its first two cases Tuesday night.
Earlier in the evening and apparently at the urging of Sanders and Biden, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced that there will be no live audience at Sunday’s Democratic debate in Arizona due to the coronavirus outbreak.