What went wrong for Hillary Clinton in Michigan?

Hillary Clinton’s surprise loss in Michigan raises an urgent question
for her campaign: What went wrong?
Michigan was supposed to be a clean victory for the former
secretary of state, proving that she could win across the country
and put her on a quick path to the Democratic nomination. But
when polls closed and it became clear that the race against Bernie
Sanders would be a nail-biter, the second-guessing among
Clinton’s allies kicked into full gear.
In the days ahead of the primary, Clinton repeatedly hammered
Sanders over his 2009 vote against a bailout for the U.S. auto
industry, calculating that the line of attack would resonate in a state
that’s home to the country’s largest car manufacturers. But by
Tuesday night, some Michigan Democrats aligned with Clinton’s
campaign said privately they think that strategy did not work as
they intended.
CNN exit polls showed that Sanders outperformed Clinton among
voters who are “very worried” about the U.S. economy, 56% to
40%. Among voters who believe international trade takes away
American jobs, Sanders also led Clinton, 56% to 43% — a sign
that Sanders’ populist economic message resonated in Michigan.
In another troubling sign for the Clinton campaign, among voters
who said their most important priority in a presidential candidate
is that they are honest and trustworthy, Sanders overwhelmingly
outperformed Clinton, 80% to 19%.
Some supporters pointed to the fact that, in contrast to Sanders,
Clinton had only campaigned in Detroit, Flint and Grand Rapids.
After campaigning tirelessly in Nevada and South Carolina,
Clinton’s schedule in Michigan seemed less packed.
The hand-wringing inside the Clinton circle also included the
concern that perhaps the campaign had lost sight of winning the
Democratic nomination — and started looking ahead at the general
election too soon.
“They didn’t take Sanders for granted as much as voters,” said
one top Democrat close to the campaign.
Clinton told supporters on Monday that “the sooner I could
become your nominee, the more I could begin to turn my
attention to the Republicans.”
Clinton’s aides seemed to anticipate the potential of a Michigan
loss. A memo last week from Clinton campaign manager Robby
Mook noted “even if Sen. Sanders were able to eke out a victory
(in Michigan), we would still net more delegates in Mississippi,
which holds its election on the same night.”
Indeed, Clinton actually won more delegates than Sanders on
Tuesday, according to a CNN estimate, picking up 84 to Sanders’
67. She now has 1,234 of the 2,383 delegates needed to win the
nomination. That figure includes super delegates, party officials
and office holders who have said they will back her.
Sanders has 567 delegates overall.
As it began to dawn on the Clinton campaign that the Michigan
contest would be much tighter than it had anticipated, Jennifer
Palmieri, Clinton’s communication director, said that
demographics were partly to blame.
“Michigan looks a lot like states that Sen. Sanders does well in. The
Democratic vote is only about 75% white — that is always coming
in at a disadvantage to us,” Palmieri told reporters Tuesday night
in Ohio.
Palmieri added that at the end of the day, the campaign still felt
“confident she is going to be the nominee.”
Sanders’ performance in Michigan gives the senator’s campaign a
fresh boost of optimism. Particularly after losing by big margins
to Clinton in a state like South Carolina, where he had made
aggressive outreach to the African-American community, one of
his main challenges is to show that he can win over a more
diverse electorate.
Clinton’s struggles in Michigan will be particularly worrisome as
the campaign aims to win neighboring Ohio on March 15.
But on Tuesday night, Palmieri denied that the tightness in
Michigan indicates potential problems for Clinton in Ohio, arguing
that Clinton’s message on jobs, the auto bailout and the
Republican Party can deliver them the Buckeye State.
“We think that she came into Michigan with a very strong
economic agenda and message about how she would create jobs
and put manufacturing sector around clean energy, also how she
would help create small businesses, very future-oriented,”
Palmieri said. “We don’t think Senator Sanders offered that and we
think that that will be effective in Ohio.”
Sanders acknowledged that the Michigan vote was close but
thanked voters for “repudiating” polls that indicated Clinton had
stronger support in the state.
“What tonight means is that the Bernie Sanders campaign, the
people’s revolution that we’re talking about, the political revolution
that we’re talking about, is strong in every part of the country,”
Sanders said. “And, frankly, we believe our strongest areas are yet
to happen.”


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