DETROIT (Reuters) – Joe Biden was projected to win Michigan’s crucial Democratic presidential contest on Tuesday, taking a big step toward the nomination and dealing a crushing blow to rival Bernie Sanders’ fading White House hopes.
Biden, the former vice president under Barack Obama, also was projected to capture Missouri and Mississippi by Edison Research and television networks on a day when six states made their choices in the race to pick a challenger to Republican President Donald Trump.
The wins put Biden, 77, on a path to the nomination to face Trump in the Nov. 3 election. Biden became the front-runner with a series of sweeping wins over Sanders, 78, in last week’s Super Tuesday contests, fueling a wave of endorsements from prominent Democrats and a new burst of momentum for his candidacy.
Sanders, a democratic socialist and U.S. senator from Vermont, had hoped an upset win in Michigan would keep his dwindling White House hopes alive. But he appeared to fall far short, leaving the future of his White House bid up in the air.
The Biden breakthrough in Michigan, along with his big victories in Missouri and Mississippi, could prove too much for Sanders to overcome. By the end of March, about two-thirds of the delegates will be allocated.
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Biden was powered to the victories on Tuesday by strong support from a broad coalition of groups, including women, African Americans, those aged 45 and older, union members and all but the very liberal, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research.
In Michigan, he performed well with union members and working-class white voters, two groups that helped Sanders to an upset victory of Hillary Clinton in the state in 2016 but did not turn out as strongly for him this time despite Sanders’ economic populism and his call for universal healthcare.
Biden had touted the Obama administration’s decision to bail out the state’s dominant auto industry, and he made a morning campaign stop on Tuesday at Detroit’s first new auto assembly plant in decades, owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.
“Unions built the country,” Biden shouted through a bullhorn. “You’re the best damn workers in the world.”
Biden shrugged off Sanders’ attacks for his support for international trade deals like the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which is unpopular in Michigan where workers say it cost the state jobs.
Sanders canceled a planned campaign appearance in Ohio and headed home to Vermont.
With 48% of precincts reporting, Biden was leading in Michigan with 53% of the vote, versus 41% for Sanders.
As in earlier states, Biden’s support was especially strong among black voters. In Mississippi, where two-thirds of the electorate was African American, Biden won more than eight of every 10 black voters.
A total of 352 of the nearly 4,000 delegates to July’s Democratic convention were up for grabs in the six states voting on Tuesday, with Michigan the biggest with 125 delegates.
As fears spread about the coronavirus, voters in Michigan said they trusted Biden more than Sanders to handle a major crisis, according to exit polls.
In Washington, the state hit hardest by the coronavirus and the second-largest state to vote on Tuesday, eight in 10 voters voiced concern about the outbreak’s effects, with a plurality supporting Biden, according to the Edison Research exit polls.
Both candidates called off planned rallies in Cleveland on Tuesday because of concerns over the coronavirus outbreak, which has rattled markets and prompted Democrats to criticize the Trump administration’s response.
The campaigns said they were following guidance from Ohio public health officials. Until now, Democratic candidates as well as Trump, 73, have largely continued to hold large-scale events despite the outbreak.
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