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Sanders scores Michigan upset; Trump tightens grip with wins

By Jonathan Easley, Lisa Hagen, Jonathan Swan and Ben Kamisar - 03/09/16 01:00 AM EST
By Jonathan Easley, Lisa Hagen, Jonathan Swan and Ben Kamisar – 03/09/16 01:00 AM EST

The Hill

Bernie Sanders won a huge upset in Michigan on Tuesday night, giving his campaign a jolt of momentum even as Donald Trump tightened his grip on the Republican nomination by scoring victories in Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii.

Entering Tuesday, not one public poll had shown Sanders leading in Michigan, and most had him down by double-digits, creating expectations that Hillary Clinton would cruise to victory.

But Sanders took the lead from the moment polls closed in the state and never let go. News networks projected him the winner just before midnight, with the Vermont senator leading 50 to 48 percent.

Sanders called an impromptu press conference while votes were still being counted to thank voters, who he said had “repudiated the polls” and “repudiated the pundits.”

“We started this campaign 10 months ago, we were 60 or 70 points down in the polls,” Sanders said. “But we’ve seen in poll after poll and state after state, we’ve created the kind of momentum that we need to win. This has been a fantastic night in Michigan.”

Sanders has now won four of the last six contests in the Democratic presidential race, and is vowing to fight all the way to the Democratic convention.

Clinton is likely to end the night having modestly added to her lead in pledged delegates, however.

Clinton cleaned up in Mississippi, winning 83 percent of the vote, according to The Associated Press. Sanders finished with just 16 percent, one percentage point above the threshold to win delegates. That gave Clinton an estimated 28 delegates compared to just one for Sanders by the AP’s count, with 7 more unaccounted for at midnight.

The tight margin in Michigan will likely prevent Sanders from narrowing the gap despite his win there. The AP projected Sanders the winner with 50 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 48 percent. That will give him at least 63 pledged delegates to Clinton’s 52, the AP reports, with another 15 left outstanding.

On the Republican side of the race, it was another good night for Trump, who won convincingly in Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii despite facing a sustained onslaught of attack ads from groups determined to deny him the nomination.

As he did after his victories in last week’s Super Tuesday contests, Trump exhorted the GOP to get behind his candidacy.

 “Let’s come together, folks. We’re going to win,” Trump said during a press conference in Jupiter, Fla.

“We’re way up with millions of people. So what I say to the Republicans is embrace it. We will win the election easily.”

Trump’s victories are likely to quiet talk that his bid for the White House is losing steam amid a bombardment from establishment figures like Mitt Romney.

A Center for Public Integrity analysis of data provided by Kantar Media/CMAG found that 76 percent of all attacks ads in the presidential race over the last week have targeted Trump, an astonishing figure for a clear-frontrunner at this stage of the race.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had so many horrible things said about me in one week,” Trump said at his press conference. “It shows you how brilliant the public is because they knew they were lies.”

“I want to thank special interests and the lobbyists because they obviously did something to drive these numbers.”

Trump’s biggest remaining rival, Ted Cruz, scored a victory in the Idaho caucuses Tuesday night, bolstering his argument that he is the only remaining Republican with enough support and delegates to defeat the businessman.

Cruz will likely split the delegates in Idaho, which awards 32 delegates on a proportional basis.

The other remaining Republican candidates, Marco Rubio and John Kasich, saw disappointing results on Tuesday.

While Kasich had hopes of a late surge in Michigan, he was more than 12 points behind Trump with 99 percent of precincts reporting and risked finishing third behind Cruz.

Rubio had an even worse night, as he was poised to be shut out of delegates in at least Mississippi and Michigan after poor performances, and potentially Idaho as well.

Those states have a 15 percent threshold for candidates to meet before delegates are awarded both statewide and at the congressional level, and Rubio fell well short of their mark.

Both Kasich and Rubio are now pinning their hopes on their home states — Ohio and Florida, respectively — to revive their chances next week. Both primaries are winner-take-all for Republicans, so if Trump wins them, his march to the nomination might become unstoppable.

Both parties will also hold primaries next week in Illinois, North Carolina and Missouri.

The Clinton campaign likely hopes her defeat in Michigan is just a bump in the road, with polls showing her with big leads in the five delegate-rich states that will vote next Tuesday.

At a brief rally on Tuesday night in Cleveland, Clinton declined to even acknowledge her victory in Mississippi or the close race in Michigan, instead keeping her focus squarely on Trump.

“Running for president should be about delivering insults, it should be about delivering results for the American people,” Clinton said. “That’s what I’m doing.”

Clinton said the U.S. can do “better than what we’ve been offered by the Republicans,” and repeated her riff on Trump’s campaign slogan, saying she will “make America whole again.”

With her win Mississippi, Clinton continued her sweep of the Deep South, where Sanders has been unable to attract significant support from black voters. Some exit polls estimated that 6 in 10 voters in the state were African-American, with Clinton winning 89 percent of them.

But it was a different story in Michigan, where Clinton’s margin of victory among blacks was not enough to overcome Sanders’s strength with other parts of the Democratic base.

The result is likely to fuel the argument from the Sanders campaign that Clinton increasingly looks like a regional candidate who has trouble winning outside the South — an area likely to be a GOP stronghold in the general election.

Clinton’s wins in Iowa, Nevada and Massachusetts, however, challenge that argument, though a win in Michigan gives the Sanders campaign more ammunition.

Sanders had gone hard after Clinton in Michigan, assailing her past support of trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership that was negotiated by the Obama administration.

Clinton now opposes that pact, but Sanders says her opposition was too late — an argument tailor-made for Michigan voters, many of whom have chafed at trade policies backed by both parties.

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