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Hillary Clinton lost to Senator Bernie Sanders in Michigan’s small towns and rural counties and as a result lost the state to her Vermont opponent in Tuesday’s Democratic primary election.
Clinton was expected to win Michigan easily, and she did roll up a nearly 11,000 vote advantage in the state’s urban areas. But Sanders beat Clinton by 22,000 votes in the state’s small cities (those between 10,000 and 50,000 people), and he won by nearly 8,000 votes in Michigan’s rural counties. Sanders won Michigan — a state all the polls said he would lose — by just over 19,000 votes.
Predictions of Clinton’s victory did hold true in Mississippi, however, where she swept the state by a margin of nearly 5 to 1, continuing her lock on Southern Democrats.
On the Republican side, New York City real estate developer and reality TV star Donald Trump continued to show strength in rural counties and small towns in primary victories in Mississippi and Michigan. In both states, Trump’s percentage of the vote rose as voting precincts moved farther from metropolitan centers. He won both states.
In Idaho, Texas Senator Ted Cruz beat Trump in the Republican primary. Even there, however, Trump’s vote percentage in rural counties was nearly 9 percentage points higher than his urban share. And Cruz’s share of the vote dropped from 46 percent in Idaho’s cities to 39.5 percent in the state’s rural counties.
The most surprising result of Tuesday’s primaries was Sanders’ win in Michigan. For Clinton, the results were a dramatic switch from 2008. In the primary eight years ago, Clinton’s share of the rural and small town vote was 10 percentage points higher than her vote in the cities. This year, Clinton’s share of the vote dropped by 8 points as the vote moved from the cities to the countryside.
In 2008, Clinton was in a close contest with then Senator Barack Obama and, for a time, North Carolina Senator John Edwards. Early in the primary season, a pattern developed in the vote: Obama would win the cities, but as the vote moved outside the major metropolitan areas, Clinton would gain.
The Clinton campaign in 2008 took note and began concentrating on rural areas and small towns. In 2008, Clinton was the choice of rural and white working class voters.
Her campaign realized the advantage and began deploying the candidate and former President Bill Clinton to smaller towns. In Gastonia, the two Clintons clambered into the bed of a red pickup truck to make their speeches.
Clinton has lost her rural and small-town touch in this election. Instead, Senator Sanders has been winning those rural votes — and as a result he’s still in a contest that most observers figured would have been finished long ago.
In Michigan, Sanders narrowed the gap with Clinton among African-American voters — he won 30 percent of the African-American vote in Michigan — and then rolled up large majorities in rural areas.
“(I)n the rest of Michigan, particularly its more rural areas, Sanders carried more than 60 percent of the vote in many counties,” wrote CNBC’s Perry Bacon Jr. “His performance in Michigan suggests Sanders could win rural counties in Ohio, Illinois, Florida and Missouri next week, a potential path to victory in those states if he does not overwhelmingly lose the black vote.”
The Washington Post’s James Hohmann reported that the Clinton campaign took Michigan for granted and virtually ignored white (and rural) voters. “The (Clinton) field operation didn’t really kick in until about one week out, and it mostly focused on driving up African American turnout – not persuading white voters,” Hohmann wrote.
While the Democratic race in Michigan was a surprise, Mississippi Democrats went for Clinton in overwhelming numbers, as expected. Her 83 percent of the vote is her largest victory to date. She was even more popular in rural areas, where she got more than 85 percent of the vote. The Mississippi race continued Clinton’s string of Southern victories.