Sanders stays in, challenges Biden on how he plans to win young voters

Sen. Bernie Sanders in Flint, March 8, 2020 | Andrew Roth

An issues-focused U.S. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will fight on in the Democratic presidential primaries, despite big losses Tuesday night.

In his first public appearance since losses to former Vice President Joe Biden in most states that voted on Tuesday, including Michigan, Sanders held a Wednesday afternoon press conference from his hometown of Burlington, Vt.. He made clear he’s staying in the race and will fight for Biden to adopt more of his progressive policies.

Sanders won an upset in Michigan four years ago against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He held eight events in Michigan before the primary, drawing huge crowds at rallies in Ann Arbor, Detroit and Grand Rapids. But on Tuesday, Biden won a 15-point victory. 

According to the Associated Press, as of Wednesday afternoon Biden currently has 860 delegates and Sanders has 710. There are 1,991 delegates needed in order to win the Democratic nomination.

Biden wins Michigan, says ‘together, we’re bringing the party together’

Sanders had planned to give a speech Tuesday night on the primary results, but canceled it and flew back to Vermont instead, sparking media speculation he might drop out. Biden gave a speech focusing on party unity and the importance of defeating President Donald Trump in November and made an appeal to Sanders supporters to unify.

In his press conference Wednesday, the Vermont U.S. senator acknowledged upfront what the loss of Michigan means for his campaign going forward.

“Last night, obviously, was not a good night for our campaign from a delegate point of view,” Sanders said. “We lost in the largest state up for grabs yesterday, the state of Michigan. We lost in Mississippi, Missouri and Idaho. On the other hand, we won in North Dakota and we lead the vote count in the state of Washington — the second-largest state contested yesterday.”

Sanders also confronted the “electability” question, which has plagued his campaign.

“While our campaign is winning the ideological debate, we are losing the debate over electability,” Sanders admitted.

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

He noted that polls consistently show that most Americans are supportive of the progressive policies that are cornerstones of Sanders’ platform, arguing that Biden will need to move to the left and adopt some of these policies if he wants to earn his voters’ support.

Sanders also zeroed in on the fact that younger voters are voting by huge margins for him over Biden, demonstrating a stark generational divide between the campaigns. However, although overall turnout was up by about 500,000 voters in Michigan compared to 2016, the high turnout of young voters he had been banking on did not pan out. Compared to four years ago, Tuesday saw a 7% drop in votes from 18-to-44-year-olds in Michigan.

“While Joe Biden continues to do well with older Americans … the younger generations of this country continue, in very strong numbers, to support our campaign,” Sanders said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders at a Grand Rapids rally, March 8. 2020 | Laina G. Stebbins

“Today, I say to the Democratic establishment: In order to win in the future, you need to win with the voters who represent the future of our country, and you must speak to the issues of concern to them.”

Sanders added that he is looking forward to Sunday’s Democratic debate in Arizona between he and Biden. That debate will now be a town hall sans live audience, due to coronavirus (COVID-19) fears.

He said that he plans to confront Biden on a variety of issues that his own voters care deeply about, including whether Biden would veto a Medicare for All bill and what he plans to do to aggressively combat climate change.

“Donald Trump must be defeated, and I will do everything in my power to make that happen. On Sunday night, in the first one-on-one debate of this campaign, the American people will have the opportunity to see which candidate is best positioned to accomplish that goal,” Sanders concluded.