FLINT, Mich. (Reuters) – Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden, who is seeking to deliver a knockout blow to rival Bernie Sanders on Tuesday as six states vote, received another boost on Monday when former presidential hopeful Cory Booker endorsed his campaign.
Speaking at a campaign event in Flint, Michigan, alongside Biden, Booker, who ended his own White House bid in January, said that “it should be obvious” why he is backing the former vice president, who, he said, could heal a “wounded nation.”
Booker’s endorsement – one day after another onetime candidate, Senator Kamala Harris of California, backed Biden – means he has picked up the backing of two black former presidential contenders as he seeks the party’s nomination to take on Republican President Donald Trump in November.
Biden has powered over the past nine days to the head of the contest for the Democratic nomination. A wave of endorsements by his former rivals has made him the clear standard-bearer for the Democratic Party’s moderate wing, while Sanders represents the party’s more liberal elements.
Biden said in Flint the rush of endorsements had surprised him. “They’ve all come out and endorsed at one time – at one time – the candidate they think can win,” he said.
Michigan, with 125 delegates to the party’s nominating convention, is the biggest prize in Tuesday’s voting. A win could give Biden an insurmountable lead in the number of delegates needed to win the nomination at the party’s July convention.
Sanders, a senator from Vermont, likely needs a victory in Michigan to recapture momentum after Biden showed surprising strength in last week’s Super Tuesday contests.
An opinion poll from the Detroit Free Press published on Monday found Biden holding a 24-percentage-point lead over Sanders among Democratic voters in Michigan.
A new national poll released by Quinnipiac University showed Biden with an almost 20-point lead over Sanders following Super Tuesday, 54% to 35%.
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While the survey has only limited relevance in the state-by-state nominating process, the poll suggested that Democratic voters increasingly view Biden as the most likely candidate to beat Trump in the Nov. 3 election.
Sanders held a rally on Monday in St. Louis. Missouri, Michigan, Mississippi, Washington state, Idaho and North Dakota, hold nominating contests on Tuesday.
Sanders returned later to Michigan, where he was due to join a roundtable on the coronavirus in Detroit. Michigan officials said on Friday they would take steps including having clerks repeatedly sanitize voting booths to alleviate the risks of infection spreading at polling places.
Washington state, which has seen the largest U.S. cluster of the coronavirus, conducts its primary election by mail.
Booker and Harris were planning to appear with Biden at a rally in Detroit on Monday evening.
Before the event in Flint, Biden and Booker shared a car ride through the low-income, predominantly black city still scarred by a crisis involving its lead-contaminated water supply.
Afterward, Biden asserted that voters were more interested in governmental competence than Sanders’ democratic socialist policy agenda.
“We’re not looking for a revolution,” Biden said. “What we want to be able to do is trust the water that comes out of the pipes and trust the words that comes out of the mouths.”
One of the most talked-about moments of Harris’ campaign was her blistering June debate attack on Biden. She called his remarks about working with segregationist senators hurtful and questioned Biden’s 1970s opposition to school busing.
Still, black voters have backed Biden overwhelmingly, and propelled him to big victories in South Carolina on Feb. 29 and on Super Tuesday last week. They will be crucial in Michigan, where they comprise almost 14% of the population.
Sanders, who drew huge crowds to weekend campaign events across Michigan, scored an upset win in the state four years ago in the Democratic primary against eventual nominee Hillary Clinton. Clinton would later lose the state by a narrow margin to Trump.
But Sanders still lags well behind Biden among black voters.
On Sunday, he sought to close that gap with an endorsement from civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, who said the senator’s progressive agenda offered black Americans the best chance to catch up socially and economically.
He also picked up on Monday the endorsement of the liberal Working Families Party, which previously backed Senator Elizabeth Warren. Warren, who dropped out last week, has not yet made an endorsement.
Justice Democrats, another liberal group that had remained neutral, endorsed Sanders on Sunday. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which has supported Warren for years, has encouraged Michigan residents to vote for Sanders but has not formally endorsed him.
Biden collected the backing of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union, which represents nearly 600,000 active and retired members in North America.
Also on Monday, another former White House contender, Montana Governor Steve Bullock, said he would run for the U.S. Senate this year against incumbent Republican Steve Daines.
(Graphic: Calendar of each state’s Democratic nominating contest and its allocated delegates, here)
(Graphic: Delegate tracker and results, here)
(Graphic: Where the candidates stand on key issues, here)
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