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Sanders defied the odds in Michigan once before but a replay might be much harder

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders takes part in a FOX News Town Hall with co-moderators Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum in Detroit
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders takes part in a FOX News Town Hall with co-moderators Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum in Detroit, March 9, 2020.Lucas Jackson / Reuters

WASHINGTON — Four years ago, Bernie Sanders shocked the political world and defied the public polling by winning the Michigan primary — even though he was unable to change the overall delegate math.

But here are three reasons why Sanders winning Michigan tonight on this Above-Average Tuesday (with a total of 365 pledges delegates up for grabs) would be an even bigger surprise than it was in 2016.

One, Joe Biden’s bounce after winning South Carolina and most of the Super Tuesday states has been enormous. A national CNN poll released Monday found Biden leading Sanders by 16 points (after Sanders was ahead by 3 points in January). And a national Quinnipiac poll had Biden ahead by 19 points (after Sanders led in February).

If you’re leading nationally by double digits, chances are you’re ahead in Michigan, too.

Two, the coronavirus story that’s been dominating the news has probably helped Biden more than Sanders. That same CNN poll shows that Democratic voters — by a 42-point margin — believe Biden would better handle a major crisis than Sanders would.

And three, Sanders has been underperforming among white working-class voters in the north. “Overall, Mr. Biden defeated Mr. Sanders by 10 points, 38 percent to 28 percent, in counties across Maine, Minnesota and Massachusetts where white voters made up at least 80 percent of the electorate and where college graduates represented less than 40 percent of the electorate,” the New York Times’ Nate Cohn writes.

That seems to suggest that part of Sanders’ success in 2016 was because he was running against Hillary Clinton.

Outside of Michigan, Sanders might even have a bigger problem tonight: Idaho and Washington state have replaced their caucuses with primaries.

And to show you how that could change the delegate math, Sanders won 72 percent in Washington’s caucuses four years ago. But when the state party held a primary that same year — which didn’t count for the delegates sent to the convention — Clinton actually edged Sanders in that contest (when a lot more voters were participating).

Two weeks ago, Joe Biden was making his final stand in South Carolina, and it worked for him — better than anyone could have imagined.

Today, Sanders is making his own final stand in Michigan.

But he’s making it on much more unfavorable turf.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 77


That’s Joe Biden’s delegate lead over Bernie Sanders heading into tonight’s contests.

Biden has been allocated 652 delegates, according to the NBC News Decision Desk, while Sanders has 575.

That doesn’t include 143 delegates that have NOT been allocated from contests that have already taken place.

Of those 143, 63 are from California, while 80 are from other Super Tuesday States.

  • California: 63
  • Utah: 20
  • Colorado: 16
  • North Carolina: 9
  • Massachusetts: 9
  • Tennessee: 8
  • Texas: 5
  • Maine: 4
  • Alabama: 3
  • Oklahoma: 2
  • Virginia: 2
  • Arkansas: 1
  • Minnesota: 1

Trump’s looking at stimulus measures to boost the economy

“President Donald Trump said Monday that he is looking at a possible payroll tax cut, along with other measures, to help American workers and boost the economy, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak,” per NBC News.

“He said he'd announce the ‘dramatic’ details of the proposed relief Tuesday. ‘They will be major,’ Trump said at a briefing on coronavirus response with members of the coronavirus task force.”

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: Everything you need to know about today’s Above-Average Tuesday contests

Six states today are holding their nominating contests — plus we get the totals from Democrats Abroad – awarding a total of 365 pledged delegates.

Here are the different contests by final poll-closing time:

  • 8:00 p.m. ET: Mississippi primary (36 pledged delegates up for grabs)
  • 8:00 p.m. ET: Missouri primary (68 pledged delegates)
  • 8:00 p.m. ET: North Dakota caucuses (14)
  • 9:00 p.m. ET: Michigan primary (125)
  • 11:00 p.m. ET: Idaho primary (20) 11:00 pm ET: Washington primary (89)
  • Later today/tonight: Democrats Abroad (13)

On the campaign trail today

Joe Biden holds his Election Night event in Cleveland… So does Bernie Sanders.

Dispatches from NBC’s campaign embeds

NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor reports on last night’s Biden rally in Detroit, where the former vice president was joined on the stage by new endorsers Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. “Look I view myself as a bridge not as anything else. There’s an entire generation of leaders you saw stand behind me. They are the future of this country,” Biden said, referring to Harris and Booker.

And speaking of endorsements, Bernie Sanders told a Fox News audience at a town hall that he and Elizabeth Warren are still talking, NBC’s Gary Grumbach flags:

FNC's Bret Baier:: You said it would be nice to have Elizabeth Warren's support. Have you asked for it?

Saunders: I have asked for it? Elizabeth and I talk. We have talked for 20 years. We talk on a regular basis. How is that for a political answer.

FNC's Martha MacCallum: Did you ask for her support?

Sanders: We talk on a regular basis. What's your next question?

The Lid: Going viral

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at how the coronavirus could upend some assumptions about the 2020 landscape.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

Here’s everything you need to know about today’s primaries and caucuses.

Some conservatives are voting in the Democratic primary in Michigan — and not as spoilers.

Markets look like they might be poised to rally after Trump floated a payroll tax cut last night.

Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi is pushing a health care costs bill that could help moderates distance themselves from Medicare for All.

Trump’s nonchalance about the coronavirus could be a big gamble for his re-election.

Italy has now implemented travel restrictions for the entire country.

Trump Agenda: Untested

No, the president has NOT been tested for coronavirus.

A payment to the U.S. Treasury Department may show how the Trump Organization’s profits from foreign governments may be falling.

Russian intelligence services hope to stoke racial violence before the 2020 election, the New York Times writes.

The U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan has officially begun.

Melania Trump canceled a fundraiser yesterday, citing “scheduling conflicts.”

2020: Brevity is a virtue?

Biden’s speeches nowadays are getting a lot shorter.

Trump and his allies seem to have settled on a coordinated anti-Biden strategy: Paint him as senile.

The New York Times reports on those who call Bernie Sanders their only hope.

How does Steve Bullock’s official entry to the Senate race shake up the map for Democrats?