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In Michigan, Bernie Sanders Exposed Hillary Clinton's Weaknesses


Michigan was the big political story last night. Bernie Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton, a win that he hopes changes the trajectory of the campaign.


On the Republican side, Donald Trump won in Michigan. He also took 2 of the 3 other Republican races, increasing his lead over his rivals.

SHAPIRO: NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro is here to help us figure out what this all means. Hi again, Domenico.


SHAPIRO: Let's start with the Democrats and that win for Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton was expected to take Michigan. All the polls had her winning by huge margins. What happened?

MONTANARO: Well, first of all, the polls were wrong (laughter). You know, it's another reminder to take polls with a grain of salt, I mean, especially after those early states where polling can really just be hit or miss, frankly. You know, trade was a big part of this. Sanders' message - he had been saying that trade policies cost jobs. Clearly that broke through. Fifty-eight percent of Democratic voters in Michigan agreed with that. Bernie Sanders won those voters 2 to 1. Sanders won big with white voters - white men in particular - won about two-thirds of those as well as white men without a college degree.

And there's been a lot of talk about what Bernie Sanders needs to do. Frankly, Hillary Clinton needs to start showing she can broaden her appeal and start winning some of those blue-collar white voters, you know? But it wasn't just that Sanders won big with whites. He also delivered on this promise that they had to start doing better with black voters. His highest share so far of African-Americans came in Michigan, still, was only 31 percent, but it was enough to keep her below where she needed to be to win. And his campaign banked on the fact that blacks in the North would vote differently than blacks in the South. And last night, at least, that was true.

MCEVERS: All right, so that's what happened in Michigan. Domenico, what does this mean for the upcoming contests?

MONTANARO: Well, first of all, we should point out that the delegate math is still very tough for Bernie Sanders. Despite his important win in Michigan - it was an important narrative-changing win, potentially - Clinton wound up with the most delegates out of the night because of this huge margin that she won out of Mississippi. Almost half the country has voted, and Clinton now has a 200-delegate lead. But anyway, Michigan looks a lot like some of the upcoming contests in big states next week, including Illinois and Ohio. So he's feeling pretty good about that.

MCEVERS: All right. Let's talk about Republicans now. There weren't many surprises last night. Donald Trump was expected to do well, and he did. So how did that happen?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, it's really fascinating with Donald Trump. He's able to kind of pick off different parts of the electorate that some of his rivals were supposed to be strong with. For example, in Mississippi, he won evangelicals - white evangelicals, who were 3 in 4 in the Republican primary. They were supposed to be Ted Cruz voters. They wound up going to Trump.

Trump also won in the Upper Midwest in Michigan, beating out the popular governor of neighboring Ohio, John Kasich. He wound up finishing third, actually. So that just shows you the kind of broad coalition Trump is trying to build, hoping to sustain. We'll see if the attacks that he has been facing actually do anything to mitigate some of that, but right now, it looks like he's expanding rather than contracting.

SHAPIRO: Domenico, I talked to Bernie Sanders earlier today, and he argued that he is not winning Southern states because he's not conservative.

MONTANARO: I heard that.



SHAPIRO: And he also argued that the states that Hillary Clinton tends to be winning are states that go red in a general election. What do you make of that? Does that matter if the states that you win in the primary are swing states in the general election?

MONTANARO: Well, first of all, it's really important to remember here, Ari, that this is a game - this is the game they both signed up for, OK? You can't just say this one state matters and this other state doesn't because an earned delegate in Nebraska counts just as much as that earned delegate in California where they're going to have tons of them. Primary turnout doesn't also indicate general election turnout. People - it's a spin you hear every four years. It just doesn't hold up. If it were the case, Barack Obama wouldn't have won Pennsylvania, Ohio or Indiana in 2008 because guess who won there - Hillary Clinton. She won that primary. But guess what did happen? Barack Obama won the general election, as we all know, and won those states.

SHAPIRO: So you're saying narrative matters; delegates matter more. Is that the takeaway here?

MONTANARO: It's always math versus momentum because the math matters until the momentum can take over. And that's the argument the Sanders campaign is making. Unfortunately, when you look at the math - and you've presented this to him in that interview as well - even if he gets big majorities in some of these states where he feels like he can do well, in the pledged majority - in the pledged delegates, he's still...

SHAPIRO: So not even talking about superdelegates...

MONTANARO: Not even superdelegates, he would still need a majority of those pledged delegates because people have actually started to vote.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thank you so much.

MONTANARO: Hey, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.