DETROIT (Reuters) – With fears spreading about the coronavirus, voters in Michigan’s vital Democratic presidential nominating contest on Tuesday said they trusted Joe Biden more than rival Bernie Sanders to handle a major crisis, according to exit polls.
The polling in Michigan, the biggest prize on a day when six states voted to pick a Democratic challenger for Republican President Donald Trump, showed about half of voters trusted Biden in a crisis, compared to one-third who most trusted Sanders, Biden’s last viable rival in the race.
In Washington, the state hit hardest by coronavirus and the second-largest state to vote on Tuesday, eight in 10 voters voiced concern about the outbreak’s effects, with a plurality supporting Biden, according to the Edison Research exit polls.
The exit polls showed Biden, 77, winning majorities of voters in Michigan across a broad range of groups, including women, black voters, union members, those who made more than $50,000 annually, those aged 45 and older, and all but the very liberal.
Powered by a series of sweeping primary wins in last week’s Super Tuesday contests, Biden has become the front-runner in the Democratic presidential race and is hoping for another round of decisive victories to expand his lead.
Sanders, a democratic socialist and U.S. senator from Vermont, is aiming for an upset win in Michigan that would keep his dwindling White House hopes alive. Sanders, 78, won a stunning 2016 upset over Hillary Clinton in Michigan that ensured a long nominating fight – something Biden hopes to avoid this time.
Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Idaho also held contests on Tuesday.
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Both candidates called off planned rallies in Cleveland, Ohio, on Tuesday due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak, which has rattled markets and prompted Democrats to criticize the Trump administration’s response.
The campaigns said they were following guidance from Ohio public health officials. Until now, Democratic candidates as well as Trump, 73, have largely continued to hold large-scale events despite the outbreak.
‘HAVE TO BE PRACTICAL’
Biden, who has touted the Obama administration’s decision to bail out the auto industry, made a morning campaign stop at Detroit’s first new auto assembly plant in decades, owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.
“Unions built the country,” Biden, vice president under former President Barack Obama, shouted through a bullhorn. “You’re the best damn workers in the world.”
But his visit was marred by a clash with one worker who suggested he planned to confiscate Americans’ guns. Biden, whose propensity to veer off script occasionally causes self-inflicted wounds, snapped at the worker using an obscenity.
Sanders has attacked Biden for supporting international trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement, which is unpopular among many of Michigan’s workers who say it has cost the state jobs. As Biden left the plant, video showed some workers chanting, “Trump!”
In Detroit, Josh Greenwood, 48, said he voted for Sanders on Tuesday because he is the “complete opposite” of Trump, while Biden’s record is questionable.
“He’s also really a Republican in my view,” Greenwood, who owns a downtown coffee shop, said of Biden. “His voting record shows that he’s voted against all of his party’s interests for his entire career.”
But other voters said Biden would offer a steady hand in volatile times and had better odds of defeating Trump.
“We all have to be practical in our choices, and not emotional,” said Sameerah Saadiq, 38, the owner of an early childhood education center, who initially supported Sanders but flipped to Biden after his Super Tuesday victories last week. “Bernie would definitely be an emotional choice for me. Biden is more sober in his positions.”
BIDEN EYES KNOCKOUT BLOW
Michigan, with 125 delegates, was the largest prize of the six states voting on Tuesday, with a total of 352 of the nearly 4,000 delegates to July’s Democratic convention up for grabs.
Since last week’s romps, Biden has roared into the national lead in polling and delegates, knocked out all remaining viable rivals except Sanders and swept up a wave of endorsements from former rivals such as Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker.
Biden has a double-digit lead in the four most recent polls taken in Michigan. But Clinton held a similar polling lead in Michigan over Sanders before the 2016 primary.
Biden, whose victories in South Carolina and on Super Tuesday were powered by strong support among black voters, hopes to receive a similar boost on Tuesday. In 2016, about one-fifth of Democratic primary voters in Michigan and Missouri, and an overwhelming 70% in Mississippi, were black.
A Biden breakthrough in Michigan, and big victories in Missouri and Mississippi, where he is heavily favored, could prove too much for Sanders to overcome. By the end of March, about two-thirds of the delegates up for grabs will be allocated.
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