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The Democratic presidential race comes into Michigan with Joe Biden riding a head of steam.

Last week’s Super Tuesday balloting did its job of winnowing the field of the hopefuls who had no hope left of winning the nomination.

Now it’s a two-man race, with former Vice President Joe Biden seemingly in the catbird seat, based on a 10-state Super Tuesday romp that gave him the lead in the delegate count. Last week’s Detroit News/WDIV Ch-4 poll indicates that momentum is carrying over to Michigan, with Biden up by 7 percentage points.

But don’t count out Bernie Sanders just yet. He’s been here before.

In March of 2016, in the final hours before the Michigan primary, the Real Clear Politics average of polls had the Vermont senator down by 21.4 percentage points to Hillary Clinton. Yet he scored a narrow victory over Clinton here to keep his underdog campaign moving ahead.

This time, though polling is tighter, the odds may be longer.

Elizabeth Warren’s departure from the race, on paper, should give Sanders a boost. In The News’ poll, 42% of voters supporting the Massachusetts senator listed Sanders as their second choice. The rest were split among the field, which at the time the poll was taken still included Mike Bloomberg, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg.

With those three gone, pollster Richard Czuba believes Warren’s 7% take will break evenly between Sanders and Biden. Same goes for the 10% that Bloomberg claimed in the polling.

Czuba, head of Glengariff Group, does not see Michigan as the stopgap for Sanders that it was four years ago.

“In 2016, Bernie won by destroying Clinton in outstate Michigan,” he says. “This time, Biden is up by 7 points both in Metro Detroit and outstate.” 

The poll offers other discouragements for Sanders. Biden’s favorability among voters over 65 — who are the most enthusiastic to cast their ballot — is at 84%. Among black voters, it’s at 74%.

Sanders’ strength is among young voters. Czuba notes that many Michigan colleges were on spring break last week, and will return to classrooms Monday, just one day before the primary. That's not a lot of time to encourage them to the polls. 

In Michigan, Sanders has turned to rallying union voters. But even among labor households, he’s lagging Biden by 9 points. 

And Biden is topping him by 20 points among those who voted absentee.

Michigan is the first of the key Midwestern states to hold its primary, ahead of Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

If Biden adds a Michigan win to his Super Tuesday performance, his campaign would take on the air of inevitability.

Despite his ideological drive, losing Michigan this time would make it tougher for Sanders to stay in the race in hopes of forcing a brokered convention, as he attempted to do in 2016. Democrats want to beat President Donald Trump too badly to indulge another round of shenanigans from a mad-as-hell socialist.

Still, Michigan is a squirrelly place when it comes to presidential primaries. Sanders shocked the pundits and pollsters here once. He could do it again Tuesday. 

nfinley@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @NolanFinleyDN

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Watch Finley on DPTV’s One Detroit at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays.

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