Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders will go head-to-head in six Democratic presidential primary contests on Tuesday, as the former vice-president seeks to shore up his frontrunner status and the Vermont senator looks to re-energise his campaign.
Mr Biden, 77, took the lead in the Democratic race in last week’s “Super Tuesday”, as support from African-American and suburban voters propelled him to victory across the south and in northern states such as Minnesota and Massachusetts. Mr Sanders, 78, won the delegate-rich state of California, but narrowly lost Texas to Mr Biden.
Mr Biden has won 664 delegates so far, compared with Mr Sanders’ 573, according to the Associated Press. With 1,991 delegates needed for the nomination, 352 delegates will be up for grabs on Tuesday in Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Idaho, North Dakota and Washington state. Votes from Democrats living overseas will also be counted.
The primaries will be the first since Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts, and Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, dropped their presidential bids, setting up what is essentially a two-man race between Mr Biden and Mr Sanders. Tulsi Gabbard, the Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii, is still running for president but has secured just two delegates.
Tuesday’s biggest prize will be Michigan, which will award 125 delegates. Mr Sanders narrowly won the Midwestern state in 2016 when he ran against Hillary Clinton, but polls put Mr Biden in the lead. According to the RealClearPolitics average, Mr Biden has a 22.6 percentage-point advantage over Mr Sanders.
International trade has proven a key point of difference between Mr Biden and Mr Sanders in Michigan, a state that has borne the brunt of America’s manufacturing slowdown, even as the rest of the economy performed well in recent months.
While Mr Biden, a moderate, has traditionally been sympathetic to open trade, Mr Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist, has consistently opposed US free trade agreements.
Mr Sanders told ABC News on Sunday that recent trade agreements “cost 160,000 jobs here in Michigan because American workers were forced to compete against desperate people in Mexico and China . . . I led the effort against those disastrous trade agreements, worked with the unions. Joe voted for those trade agreements.”
It remains unclear whether Mr Sanders’ attacks will resonate with Michigan voters. Mr Biden, who is known in the state for helping to engineer the bailout of the US car sector during the financial crisis, has secured several high-profile endorsements in the state, including from Gretchen Whitmer, the governor.
Endorsements have proved crucial to the turnround of Mr Biden’s candidacy, which took off after his 30 point victory in South Carolina. The backing of Amy Klobuchar helped the former vice-president win Minnesota last week, while the support of Beto O’Rourke gave him a boost in Texas.
More recently, Mr Biden has received endorsements from former presidential hopefuls Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. On Monday night, Mr Booker, a senator from New Jersey, and Ms Harris, a senator from California, campaigned with him in Detroit, where three-quarters of the population is African-American. An estimated one-fifth of Democratic primary voters in Michigan will be black.
Mr Sanders is betting on a large turnout from younger voters in Michigan, especially in college towns like Ann Arbor, where some 10,000 people attended a rally for the Vermont senator on Sunday.
Both candidates have continued to criss-cross the country for campaign events, despite the spread of coronavirus.
Mr Biden told NBC News on Monday that his campaign was following CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) advice. “If they conclude that there shouldn’t be big indoor rallies then we’ll stop big indoor rallies,” he said. “We’re going to do whatever they say.”
Mr Sanders’ campaign emailed supporters to ask them to sign a petition demanding free coronavirus testing and treatment for all Americans. Mr Sanders has centred his campaign on a “Medicare for All” plan that would effectively eliminate US private health insurance.