Politics

With Sanders’ Mich. win, Clinton’s vulnerabilities revealed

Hillary Clinton spoke during a campaign rally Tuesday in Cleveland.
DAVID MAXWELL/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Hillary Clinton spoke during a campaign rally Tuesday in Cleveland.

WASHINGTON — Bernie Sanders stunned Hillary Clinton in an upset win in the Michigan Democratic primary Tuesday, revealing the former secretary of state’s vulnerabilities in a crucial Midwest state where foreign trade and economic issues played a pivotal role.

Clinton cruised easily to a victory in Mississippi, another of the four states voting Tuesday. But the surprising result in Michigan showed that Sanders’ anti-Wall Street message, and his demands for sweeping change in Washington, resonated powerfully in a state with a large number of white, working-class voters.

The Associated Press declared Sanders the victor in Michigan at about 11:30 p.m. With 93 percent of precincts reporting, the Vermont senator had 50.1 percent of the vote, and Clinton had 48 percent.

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In the Republican contest, Donald Trump easily won Michigan and Mississippi, further complicating the efforts of the Republican Party establishment to halt the momentum of his outsider, insurgent candidacy. Contests were also held in Idaho and Hawaii.

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Winning Michigan gives Sanders and his youthful, grass-roots supporters a major boost heading into several key races next Tuesday. The two candidates are set to face off in another debate Wednesday night in Florida, which is the largest of the five states set to vote that day.

“We came from 30 points down in Michigan and we’re seeing the same kind of come-from-behind momentum all across America,’’ Sanders said in a statement. “Not only is Michigan the gateway to the rest of the industrial Midwest, the results there show that we are a national campaign.’’

Sanders’ win in Michigan also raises the stakes for Clinton in Ohio. The state shares a large industrial base with Michigan, and voters express many of the same anxieties concerning the economy and trade policies.

However, Clinton’s current lead in delegates, and her commitment from party leaders who have a strong voice in determining the nominee, means the Michigan result does not fundamentally change her advantages.

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In Mississippi, Clinton had 83 percent of the vote to Sanders’ 16 percent with 94 percent of precincts reporting.

Despite the setback in Michigan, Clinton’s communications director Jennifer Palmieri said her campaign remains ‘‘confident she is going to be the nominee.’’

Speaking to reporters in Cleveland, Palmieri said ‘‘our strategy for getting the nomination is built around accruing more delegates. We will come out on top tonight on delegates.”

Sanders’s campaign had downplayed his chances in Michigan amid polls that put him down by double digits.

And he had found himself on the defensive just two days before voting started, forced to explain his vote against a Wall Street bailout package after Clinton pointed out that some of the money in the legislation was directed to help the ailing auto industry.

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In the end the skirmish didn’t matter.

Democrats instead reacted strongly to Sanders’s message that the state’s economy was in shambles because of trade deals that were designed or supported by the Clinton clan.

“Secretary Clinton supported virtually every one of the disastrous trade agreements written by corporate America,” Sanders said during a debate held Sunday night in Flint.

“You didn’t need a PhD in economics to understand that American workers should not be forced to compete against people in Mexico making 25 cents an hour.”

Sanders hammered Clinton on her hesitance to voice opposition to the TransPacific Partnership trade agreement, an accord President Obama reached with 11 countries.

She initially called the process the “gold standard” for developing a trade accord.

Then Clinton sat on her hands for weeks as Congress was debating whether to grant Obama so-called fast track authority on the deal, a intermediatory step that will likely ease passage.

She finally came out against the deal during a trip to Iowa and repeated that position earlier this week at the debate.

“I thought it was reasonable to actually know what was in it before I opposed it,” Clinton said during the debate explaining her delay. “I oppose it.”

A loss in Michigan could spell trouble for Clinton down the line if she and Trump face off in the general election because he appeals to many of the same factory worker Democrats who are motivated by Sanders.

During a February interview on CNN, Trump said that he and Sanders “agree very much” on trade. “We both agree that we’re getting ripped off by China, by Japan, by Mexico, by everybody we do business with,” Trump said to CNN’s Jake Tapper on ‘State of the Union.’”

With an eye to wooing voters skeptical of her commitment to working class Democrats, Clinton had unveiled a detailed economic plan last week that she calls a “new bargain” that would provide incentives to companies investing in their employees.

It includes a provision that would allow the US government to “clawback” benefits from companies that move overseas after taking advantage of federal incentives.

The Michigan results showed that Sanders’ message is slightly stronger with black voters outside the Deep South, reinforcing a theory that his top strategists have offered as they argue his candidacy still has legs. In Michigan Sanders won the support of 32 percent of black voters, compared to 64 percent for Clinton, according to exit polls. In Mississippi, he won just 10 percent of African-Americans.

Clinton prevailed in the urban Detroit and Flint neighborhoods, while Sanders dominated in the more rural parts of the state and in cities with a large percentage of young voters, such as Lansing and Ann Arbor, where Michigan State University and the University of Michigan have their campuses.

His better performance among blacks in Michigan was particularly surprising given that he seemed to further alienate them during the Flint debate by suggesting many live in ghettos.

“When you’re white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in a ghetto,” Sanders said on the debate stage Sunday night. “You don’t know what it’s like to be poor,” he added, ignoring the fact that there are many poor white enclaves while the majority of blacks don’t live in ghettos and aren’t poor.

Clinton had tried to make the campaign here about local issues, focusing heavily on the lead tainted water that has poisoned residents of Flint.

She took the highly unusual step of leaving New Hampshire, the first in the nation primary, the Sunday before voting to visit with the mayor of Flint and speak at a church. Clinton lost New Hampshire by 22 points.

Sanders focused on broader issues, tying the plight of Flint’s residents to a larger economic system that he says is rigged against their interests.

Annie Linskey can be reached at annie.linskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AnnieLinskey.