As I noted in my last blog, the question at the forefront of the minds of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on Tuesday morning was, ‘Was Michigan a fluke?’ If it were, Sanders was primed to beat Clinton in Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri, and to run a close match with her in Florida and North Carolina. As it happens, Michigan was a fluke. Clinton beat Sanders in almost every contest on Tuesday night, including the critical general election swing states of Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina. As of writing, Clinton led Sanders by a bare margin of 0.2 percent (approximately 1500 votes) in Missouri, which is yet to be called.
There is no question that this is a massive and welcome victory for Clinton and her campaign. The shock of the Michigan loss threatened to upend the Democratic nomination, with Sanders claiming more in victory than what was on offer. Sanders supporters began to push the narrative that Clinton was unable to compete outside of the Southern states she had used to push up her delegate count. This was shown to be wishful thinking.
There were two bright spots for Sanders on what was an overcast night. First, Clinton’s victory margin in Illinois was only 2 percent, far below predictions. It is quite possible that Sanders’ victory in Michigan moved some votes from Clinton’s campaign to his, or motivated a greater turnout than originally planned. Second, Sanders’ loss in the Southern state of North Carolina was a slim 14-points, a positive, given that he has a history of losing the Southern contests by a margin of 40 points or more. With regard to the African American voters that have heavily supported Clinton in the South, Sanders seems to do better with northern African Americans.
Sanders is nowhere near ready to drop out of this race, and has consistently indicated that he plans to stay in until the Convention in July. What we may start to see is a shift in the campaigning style and message from the Sanders campaign. There is a world of difference between running a campaign to become the Democratic (or Republican) nominee, and running a campaign to influence the likely nominee. On the latter point, Sanders has performed strongly, forcing Clinton to address and mollify her left flank. His economic populism clearly resonates with the white working class voters that Trump has assiduously courted. Clinton cannot afford to lose this part of the Democratic base in a general election matchup with Trump.
Clinton has a commanding lead and is on track to become the Democratic nominee, but she will need Sanders’ assistance to take on Trump and Trumpism in November.
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