Sanders arrives in Michigan facing uphill climb

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders arrives Wednesday in Michigan with four Super Tuesday victories under his belt, but faces a daunting obstacle of overcoming Hillary Clinton’s lead in the number of delegates needed to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination.

Clinton won seven states and one territory Tuesday, boosting her nominating convention delegate count to 1,001 over Sanders’ 371 delegates.

The totals include so-called “super delegates,” elected Democratic officials and party leaders who get to cast a separate vote at the July 25-28 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Sanders is expected to draw a big crowd Wednesday night for a rally at Michigan State University’s 14,759-seat Breslin Center in East Lansing. By 5 p.m., a line of thousands of fans had lined up outside Breslin Center.

The Detroit News reported Tuesday Sanders is outspending Clinton on television advertising in Michigan in a campaign that has centered around Flint’s lead-contaminated water crisis.

But the self-declared democratic socialist faces an uphill climb for the Democratic nomination, where requires 2,383 delegates to win. Among super delegates, who can switch their vote at any time, Clinton holds a staggering 457 to 22 lead over Sanders.

Howard Edelson, a Democratic consultant from Ann Arbor who is neutral in the race, said Michigan is “a must-win” for Sanders to carry forward into 11 other states and one territory that vote later this month.

“All eyes will be on Michigan and if Hillary Clinton wins ... I think it be much more difficult for Bernie Sanders to lay out a plan of how he will wins states going into the March 15 primary,” Edelson said Wednesday.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said Clinton’s delegate lead forces Sanders to focus on keeping alive his issues of fighting big banks and special interest groups.

“This isn’t about Sanders being nominated,” Sabato said Wednesday. “It’s about Sanders having the money to continue and collecting as many delegates that he can to pull Hillary Clinton and the party platform to the left.”

“It’s a foregone conclusion that Clinton will be the nominee and I think Michigan will help confirm that,” Sabato added.

Sanders needs to use his victories Tuesday in Colorado, Minnesota, Oklahoma and his home state of Vermont to win larger states voting this month to keep up with Clinton, said David Dulio, chairman of the political science department at Oakland University.

“He’s behind and he’s farther behind mainly because of those super delegates,” Dulio said. “Sooner or later, he’s going to have to start winning bigger delegate hauls and that could start here in Michigan.”

Michigan has 148 delegates at stake in Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primary, 17 of which are super delegates.

A week after Michigan votes, there are 793 delegates at stake in the March 15 primaries in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio.

“For (Sanders) to catch (Clinton), he’s going to have to win big proportions of those delegates in those big states and start to flip those super delegates,” Dulio said.

Despite Clinton’s delegate advantage, Sanders continues to raise staggering amounts of campaign cash from a large network of small dollar contributors. In February alone, Sanders hauled in $42 million in campaign contributions.

“He’s shown obviously he’s for real, he’s raised an enormous amount of money,” said Susan Demas, publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, a Lansing publication. “But I don’t see a path to victory. There’s an incentive to stay in to push his issues, to stay in the spotlight.”

Doors open at 4 p.m. for Sanders’ rally at the Breslin Center. He isn’t expected to take the stage until 7 p.m. The Sanders campaign encourages supporters to register online in advance to get a seat at the rally.

(517) 371-3660