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Big Tuesday Preview

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to turn our attention now to upcoming primaries taking place throughout the country. Six more states vote Tuesday, including Washington state, where we've been based this week for our reporting. But the biggest delegate haul comes from Michigan, and that's where we find NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow, who is in Ann Arbor.

Scott, good to talk with you once again.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good afternoon, Michel.

MARTIN: So Bernie Sanders won Michigan four years ago, giving him a big boost against Hillary Clinton. And it's shaping up to be a key contest for him again, this time against delegate leader Joe Biden. Why does Michigan matter so much?

DETROW: Well, first of all, it's the delegates. There's 125 delegates at stake Tuesday. That is the most of any state. We're still counting up the delegates from last week, especially California. But at the moment, Joe Biden has a lead of about 90 delegates. Beyond that, there is a lot of symbolic value in Michigan. As you mentioned, this was the wind that Bernie Sanders got in 2016 that really elevated his campaign against Hillary Clinton to a next level.

And on top of that, more importantly for Democrats, of course, a few months later, they lost Michigan in November for the first time in a generation. And this is one of a handful of states that the entire primary has been, like, a proxy conversation about - which candidate is best positioned to beat Donald Trump here in Michigan? So because of that, it carries a lot of symbolic value.

And also, just nuts and bolts of the campaign going forward, looking ahead, there's a lot of states that are probably more favorable to Joe Biden, including Florida. So, all in all, it's really a must-win state for Sanders.

MARTIN: Well, speaking of Joe Biden, he got those big endorsements just before Super Tuesday - his former competitors Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O'Rourke. And he got another former rival to endorse him today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAMALA HARRIS: I believe in Joe. I really believe in him, and I have known him for a long time.

MARTIN: That is California senator Kamala Harris. Scott, it just seems like more and more big Democratic figures are lining up behind Joe Biden.

DETROW: That's right. This morning, Harris made that announcement. Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick also endorsed Biden. That's two prominent African American candidates for president to back Biden. He actually has not been campaigning that much since his big Super Tuesday. He was in Missouri yesterday. He's in Mississippi today. But the campaign's been getting a lot of traction off all of these endorsements.

Bernie Sanders countered with his own high-profile endorsement today. He held an event in Grand Rapids with Reverend Jesse Jackson, who, of course, ran for president himself in 1984 and 1988. But Sanders is conceding that this tidal wave of endorsements of Biden is affecting the race, and it's not good for his campaign. Here he was on "Meet The Press" this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

BERNIE SANDERS: The establishment put a great deal of pressure on Pete Buttigieg, on Amy Klobuchar, who ran really aggressive campaigns. I know both of them. They work really, really hard. But suddenly, right before Super Tuesday, they announced their withdrawal.

DETROW: So Buttigieg's former communications director, Lis Smith, did say that his decision to get out of the race was his and his alone. Sanders is arguing that he could have won more states if these candidates hadn't dropped out. Though I should point out before Super Tuesday, his campaign was arguing they were growing their base of voter support, and that didn't necessarily turn out to be the case if you look at the numbers.

MARTIN: Well, you've spent a lot of time with the Sanders campaign. What are they trying to do to regain momentum here?

DETROW: So, first of all, they're spending a lot of time here. They're focusing a lot on Joe Biden's track record, particularly his vote for trade deals like NAFTA, which a lot of people in Michigan say really hurt the economy here. You can tell this is a must-win because the Sanders campaign has canceled a lot of previously scheduled debates and events in three other states in order to spend more time in Michigan. And that's a pretty drastic contrast from a campaign that has really stuck to a long-term strategy throughout the entire campaign.

MARTIN: And apart from Michigan - we have about 30 seconds left - what's the landscape looking like for Sanders and Biden on Tuesday?

DETROW: Well, where you are in Washington, they're voting. They're one of a couple states that switched from a caucus to a primary, including Idaho. I'm particularly interested in those two states because those are states Sanders won last time around. But we have seen when states have switched from a caucus to a primary, he doesn't do as well - which is ironic, because he was the one saying the Democratic Party needs to do away with caucuses.

MARTIN: All right. That is NPR's Scott Detrow in Ann Arbor, Mich. Scott, thank you.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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