Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden is looking to deliver the decisive blow against Sen. Bernard Sanders on Tuesday and firmly take the reins in the 2020 Democratic presidential race.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders are competing across six states in which 352 pledged delegates are up for grabs Tuesday, more than one-third of them in Michigan, where much of the candidates’ focus has been in recent days.
Voters in Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Washington state also will head to the polls as establishment Democratic figures fall in line behind Mr. Biden, including former presidential hopefuls Sens. Cory A. Booker of New Jersey and Kamala D. Harris of California.
“It does seem as though all of the planets are rearranging themselves in the Biden orbit,” said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University.
The former vice president had a 15-point lead — 51% to 36% — over Mr. Sanders in Michigan, according to a Monmouth University poll released Monday.
“Biden appears to have the advantage because he is doing well among some groups that Sanders won four years ago. But as we learned in 2016, Michigan can defy expectations,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Mr. Sanders is looking for a repeat performance in Michigan, where he scored an upset win over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016 after heading into the contest as a similarly positioned underdog.
Though Mrs. Clinton ultimately won the Democratic nomination, her loss in Michigan previewed the difficulties she would have in the industrial Midwest against President Trump that November and helped prolong the battle against Mr. Sanders, who wouldn’t officially endorse her until July.
“This is one of a handful of states that may end up determining this election,” Mr. Biden said while campaigning in Flint on Monday. “We’re not looking for a revolution. What we ought to be able to do is trust the water that comes out of the pipes.”
Mr. Biden’s strong support with black voters could be a major advantage in Michigan, where they accounted for 21% of the Democratic primary electorate in 2016.
John Couvillon, a Louisiana-based pollster, pointed out that Mrs. Clinton’s base of support in Michigan in 2016 was highly concentrated, with much of her success coming near Detroit.
“I’m not convinced that that outstate, more-rural vote that Bernie Sanders carried in 2016 would necessarily stick with him this time,” Mr. Couvillon said. “Even though I don’t expect Sanders to drop out any time soon, for credibility’s sake I think the expectation is he has to win Michigan.”
Mr. Sanders has been in a better position in public polls in Washington, the second-biggest prize on Tuesday where he has won support from politicians like Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who is co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
But Mr. Biden appears to be on solid footing in states like Mississippi and Missouri as he demonstrates continued strength among black voters, who helped reinvigorate his slumbering campaign with a blowout win in South Carolina on Feb. 29.
After the dust settled in Super Tuesday primaries last week, Mr. Biden had won 10 of 14 states and built about a 90-delegate lead over Mr. Sanders.
“Biden had a broad victory this past Tuesday,” Mr. Couvillon said. “I would not be terribly surprised if you have four or five Biden wins out of the six contests.”
In addition to Michigan, Mr. Sanders also defeated Mrs. Clinton in Washington, Idaho, and North Dakota in 2016.
But Washington and Idaho switched from a caucus system in 2016 to a primary contest for Tuesday’s election — North Dakota is the only state voting Tuesday that will use caucuses — which Mr. Couvillon said is likely to hurt Mr. Sanders a bit.
Mr. Sanders has tried to make the case that Mr. Biden isn’t the kind of candidate who will generate the enthusiasm, particularly among younger people, that will be necessary to defeat President Trump in the fall.
“My point here is to ask you to think in a general election, which candidate can generate the enthusiasm and the excitement and the voter turnout we need,” Mr. Sanders said at a campaign event in St. Louis on Monday before he was serenaded with chants of “Bernie! Bernie!”
Mr. Sanders has re-upped his criticism of the political “establishment” after onetime 2020 rivals like former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota quickly lined up behind Mr. Biden ahead of Super Tuesday.
Billionaire media mogul Michael R. Bloomberg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts both dropped out of the race after poor showings last Tuesday. Mr. Bloomberg swiftly endorsed Mr. Biden, while Ms. Warren has not endorsed any former rival.
Despite the hand-wringing about Mr. Sanders among many Democrats, the party has done its best to avoid putting a thumb on the scale to hurt him after a 2016 campaign that saw leaked emails show party officials musing about how to block his run, Mr. Baker said.
“Biden certainly understands that there is a community of opinion within the Democratic Party that is and always will be pro-Sanders and very much in favor of that collection of reforms and proposals,” he said. “Whatever problems Biden faces, it shouldn’t be from a disaffected Sanders group that feels the party establishment has turned on him.”
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