The political and media elites that see most of America as “flyover” country have never quite understood that trade policy matters. But in cities like Flint and Pontiac and Grand Rapids and Detroit, cities that have been ravaged by the offshoring of jobs and the closing of auto plants, it does matter.
That is why Bernie Sanders and his campaign strategists always believed they would run better in Michigan than the polls and pundits suggested.
It turns out that Sanders was right. On Tuesday, to the surprise of almost everyone, the candidate that so many commentators had been trying to write off just hours earlier won the biggest victory so far in his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Sanders beat Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the nomination, by a narrow margin—around 20,000 votes out of almost 1.2 million cast. But in a contest where Clinton has hailed narrow wins in Iowa and Massachusetts as big victories for her, the Michigan win counts as a big victory for Sanders. And it was made all the more consequential because poll after poll after poll had suggested Sanders was far behind the former secretary of state.
“I am grateful to the people of Michigan for defying the pundits and pollsters and giving us their support. This is a critically important night. We came from 30 points down in Michigan and we’re seeing the same kind of come-from-behind momentum all across America,” said Sanders. “Not only is Michigan the gateway to the rest of the industrial Midwest, the results there show that we are a national campaign. We already have won in the Midwest, New England, and the Great Plains and as more people get to know more about who we are and what our views are we’re going to do very well.”
Sanders still faces an uphill climb. Clinton has won more of the pledged delegates that are needed to secure the nomination. She just added to her total with a big win in Mississippi on Tuesday. And she has a huge advantage among the unpledged “superdelegates” who have always provided her with a cushion in this contest.
But it would be difficult to underestimate the significance of the Michigan win for Sanders.
How did he secure it?
Clearly, Clinton’s attempt to suggest that Sanders had not supported the 2009 bailout of the auto industry failed. Voters just did not buy the claim that the senator, who has a long history of battling on behalf of industrial workers and American manufacturing, had been on the wrong side of that issue.