Hillary Clinton took more delegates out of the primaries in Michigan and Mississippi on Tuesday night. But Bernie Sanders, by winning in Michigan, scored a massively important symbolic victory that will likely reenergize his campaign and extend the Democratic presidential race for weeks, if not months.
“What tonight means is that the Bernie Sanders campaign ... is strong in every part of the country," Sanders said in brief remarks in Florida on Tuesday night. “We believe our strongest areas are yet to happen."
Given Sanders’s remarkable comeback in Michigan — most polling had him losing by more than 20 points — there are a handful of large, industrial states, many clumped in the Midwest, where Sanders now has to be considered viable, assuming he continues to ride the trade message that catapulted him to the top in the Wolverine State.
Ohio — and its haul of 66 delegates — looks good for Clinton as of this morning with a CNN poll showing her leading by 30 points. But given Sanders’s surge in the final days before Michigan — not to mention the positive press he’ll get in Ohio and everywhere else from his Michigan win — it’s hard to totally write off his chances. Same goes for Illinois, which, like Ohio, votes on March 15. And Wisconsin on April 5. And Pennsylvania on April 26.
Putting aside the more technical aspects of what Sanders’s victory means, there’s also this: Winning Michigan makes it that much harder for the Clinton people to dismiss him as either a regional candidate or someone who can win only small, not very Democratic states that hold caucuses.
Sanders’s marquee victory before Tuesday night was in the New Hampshire primary Feb. 9. It was dismissed, effectively so, by the Clinton folks as simply a state choosing a hometown (or close enough) hero. Wins in Kansas and Nebraska were written off as largely meaningless amid Clinton’s continued delegate dominance. Sanders’s victories in Colorado and Minnesota — two larger states — were played down because they were caucuses, perceived as more favorable to the liberal Sanders than primaries.
But Michigan is a state where no one — not even Clintonworld — can take away what Sanders accomplished. This is a big, Midwestern state that is far more diverse than Iowa or New Hampshire. Clinton tried very hard to win. She didn't. Case closed.
Although Sanders’s win virtually ensures that this race goes through April — Pennsylvania’s primary isn’t until the end of that month — and maybe all the way through when California votes June 7, it still doesn’t change the underlying delegate math of the contest. And, there, Clinton retains a considerable edge.
Sanders’s narrow Michigan win netted him only seven more delegates than Clinton, while her massive victory in Mississippi gave her a 25 delegate edge. The night netted out then +18 for Clinton. Her overall delegate lead — when the unelected and unpledged superdelegates are added into the mix — stands at 650, and she is now more than halfway to the 2,383 delegates she needs to formally secure the nomination.
And so, Clinton remains favored to be the nominee. But on a night when the Clinton campaign was hoping to take a big step forward in closing out Sanders’s uprising, it took a big step back instead. The race continues — and will continue for quite some time. That’s very good news for Sanders and bad news for Clinton. Period.