Bernie Sanders set to campaign for president in Macomb County

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Bernie Sanders, U.S. senator from Vermont and self-avowed democratic socialist, is set to hold a rally at Macomb Community College in Warren on April 13.

Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is returning to Michigan for a Saturday campaign rally as he works to rekindle the enthusiasm that carried him to a primary win here in 2016.

More: Sanders quiets his critics, becomes a 2020 front-runner

The independent U.S. senator from Vermont and self-avowed democratic socialist is set to hold a rally at Macomb Community College in Warren on April 13, his campaign announced Monday. 

Sanders barnstormed Michigan college campuses three years ago en route to his surprise primary win over eventual Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who went on to lose the state and Electoral College to Republican President Donald Trump.

The 77-year-old elected official also campaigned in Michigan last year for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and one of her primary challengers, former Detroit health director Abdul El-Sayed.

Saturday’s visit will be Sanders' first to the state since launching his 2020 presidential campaign last month. But he has kept his eye on Michigan and highlighted the pay of the executive of state's dominant health insurer to renew his calls for a Medicare for All single-payer health care program. He is expected to re-introduce legislation this week. 

Sanders also tweeted about Flint on Sunday, calling it "absurd that we have to say this in America in 2019: When you turn on the tap in your home, whether it's in Vermont or Iowa or Flint, Michigan, you have a right to expect that the water coming out is clean."

Trump held a massive-re-election rally in Grand Rapids late last month, making it clear he plans to prioritize Michigan again after capping his campaign here three years ago.

Four Democratic presidential candidates have already made campaign stops in Michigan, which is expected to be a key battleground in 2020, and others are expected later this year. Sanders beat Clinton by less than two percentage points here in 2016, and Trump beat her by 10,704 votes or two-tenths of one percentage point in the general election. 

“Michigan is ground zero, and everyone will be here,” predicted Lonnie Scott, executive director of the Progress Michigan liberal advocacy group.

“President Trump was just here, and I think a lesson was learned in 2016 that Michigan should not be taken for granted. It’s a lesson that those of us on the ground were screaming at folks that just weren't listening — that the blue wall was pretty rusty and could cave, and that's certainly what happened."

Sanders' Michigan rally is one stop on a weekend itinerary that will also take him to Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Trump flipped all three states in 2016, but Sanders is “by far the best-positioned” candidate in the Democratic field to win them back, his campaign argued in a news release. “The tour will emphasize that Democrats’ clearest and strongest path to victory in 2020 runs through the upper Midwest."

The Macomb Community College rally is expected to begin at 5 p.m. in a parking lot at 14500 East 12 Mile Road in Warren.

Like Trump, Sanders courted blue-collar workers in Michigan three years ago by criticizing international free trade agreements, including at a March 5, 2016 campaign stop at Macomb Community College. But his 2016 primary campaign was largely defined by his focus on college campuses, where he fired up students during a series of rallies across the state.

Sanders was not particularly popular in Macomb County, where he’ll campaign Saturday at the local community college. The working-class region narrowly backed Clinton in the primary before swinging sharply toward Trump in the general election.

Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York both held events in Metro Detroit last month.

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California is set to headline an NAACP dinner in Detroit on May 5, and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is expected at a Michigan Democratic Party women’s caucus luncheon in Detroit on May 18.