Dems look to Michigan primary as testing ground for November

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MLive.com/Grand Rapids Press

Volunteers hand out signs at a rally for Bernie Sanders at Calder Plaza in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Sunday, March 8, 2020. Michigan's presidential primary is Tuesday.(Anntaninna Biondo/The Grand Rapids Press via AP)

DETROIT, Mich. – Ask Arlene Williams about President Donald Trump's promises to bring back auto industry jobs that have evaporated across Michigan and she'll point with irony to the Chevy Blazer.

General Motors is now remaking the iconic American SUV after a lengthy hiatus — but building parts of it in Mexico and elsewhere overseas.

“These are some of the staple brands and yes, they're back,” said Williams, 49, who works at a GM plant in Romulus, Michigan, southwest of Detroit. “They're just not being made in the U.S.”

The largest of six states voting Tuesday, Michigan could redefine a Democratic primary that has become a showdown between former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. But many voters are already looking ahead to November and whether Trump can again win in the state that perhaps more than any other catapulted him into the White House in 2016.

For Sanders, the stakes could hardly be higher. He defeated Hillary Clinton in Michigan in 2016, emboldening his argument that he could win with a diverse coalition that drew well from young voters, working-class whites and African Americans. But it is the kind of victory he has not been able to replicate this time, and if he does not on Tuesday, any chances at the Democratic nomination may be greatly diminished.

Biden has been emphasizing the Obama administration's bailout of the auto industry, which provided an economic lifeline for GM and Chrysler and federal loans for Ford, likely saving thousands of jobs. He is also counting on continued strong support among African American voters.

How Michigan votes will also be clarifying for November. Some see Sanders' sweeping promises to cancel student debt and provide health care for all potentially energizing young voters but not older ones wary of his democratic socialist ideology. Centrist and safe, Biden could do exactly the opposite, though.

Others worry that both candidates are taking black Democrats for granted. All that may add up to neither being able to carry the state against Trump.