Why Hillary Clinton Has an Advantage Heading Into the Flint Debate

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Photograph by The Washington Post/Getty Images

Bernie Sanders was coming off fresh wins in Kansas and Nebraska when he took the stage late Saturday night to speak to the Michigan Democratic Party’s fundraising dinner in a Detroit casino’s ballroom. The Vermont Senator looked like anything but a winner, though.

In fact, his entrance had been delayed by rival Hillary Clinton, who spoke before him and lingered with the donors and activists who lined up by the stage to meet her. For 15 minutes, as her campaign soundtrack blasted, the former Secretary of State posed for pictures and shook hands with her biggest fans. Sanders, meanwhile, waited and waited. “This is my fight song!” the sound system blasted. It was clear Clinton was in fighting mode.

The Chairman of the state Democrats, Brandon Dillon, tried to hint that Clinton needed to wrap things up. He took the stage and urged supporters to let her go, even though she was in no rush to cede the stage. It was all smiles and selfies. “I think everyone understands how important Michigan is going to be,” Dillon said, nudging her out. It didn’t matter. “We’re going to let Secretary Clinton work the rope line,” he said, clearly losing control.

Finally, Sanders himself burst forth, pushing through the heavy blue curtains and started working the audience from the other side of the stage. Clinton’s soundtrack faded, and the pair passed within feet of each other. Sanders attempted to take the stage that was now his for a brief time, but Clinton would not yield. Even as he started his speech, she hung around for just a few more pictures.

This is essentially what Democrats are watching now in their party: Clinton, even in loss, still is in control. She is amassing an advantage among delegates that Sanders will struggle to overcome. As Sanders picked up white-heavy Kansas and Nebraska—two states that are unlikely to tip to Democrats in November—Clinton picked up Louisiana, where African-Americans lent her a hand.

Heading into Sunday night’s debate in Flint, Mich.—and Tuesday’s primary in the state—Sanders faced the question of how much more he was willing to fight. Even when telling Democrats in Michigan about his victories, he sounded like a candidate who was contemplating an exit. “No matter who wins this Democratic nomination, I have not the slightest doubt that on our worst days, we will be infinitely better than the Republicans,” Sanders said.

Sunday night’s debate on CNN comes as Clinton pulls ahead of Sanders in the national race for delegates. He can win some states here and there, but Clinton is keeping her focus on the delegate chart, which aides have put on a wall in her Brooklyn headquarters. “I want to congratulate Senator Sanders for running a strong campaign,” she said in Detroit, keenly attuned to the delegate race that she understood too late during her failed 2008 campaign against Barack Obama. “I am thrilled we are adding to our pledged delegate count. I’m grateful to everyone who turned out to support us.” She then turned to the activists who had expected only to hear from Clinton but saw Sanders come as a last-minute addition to the program. “Now all eyes turn to Michigan,” she said.


The Sunday night debate was a late addition to the schedule, but unavoidable given the crisis given the water disaster in the city. “This is a crisis. We cannot drink the water,” Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said. “What happened in Flint could happen in any community.”

Former President Bill Clinton spent his Saturday in Detroit, encouraging union members to work for his wife’s bid. Although the powerful UAW, Teamsters and the AFL-CIO were not going to take sides, others such as AFSCME, the American Federation of Teachers and LIUNA were knocking on doors for her. “She’s got the unions—or at least their leaders. You can’t overstate that impact,” said one neutral Democratic operative in Michigan whose clients include Clinton and Sanders backers. “It’s hard, if you’re a shift worker, to tell Bill Clinton no.”

It’s why Team Clinton is spending every day ahead of Tuesday’s balloting here. She has proven successful in winning over more diverse states, while Sanders has found success in largely-white states. A win in Michigan could prove immensely helpful ahead of March 15, when other swing states Ohio and Florida cast ballots. While Clinton has yet to clinch the Democrats’ nomination, she’s obviously looking ahead to the general election—and gleefully imagining a contest against GOP frontrunner Donald Trump.

“The stakes keep getting higher, and the rhetoric you’re hearing from the other side keeps sinking lower,” Clinton said Saturday night, making an allusion to Trump. It’s clear she’s ready to pivot to a head-to-head race with the man Establishment-minded Republicans see as being dragged to the muck by the New York billionaire. Keep in mind, Clinton delayed Sanders while her fight song echoed through the Detroit casino ballroom. She’s betting luck is on her side. So far, it has been.

This article was originally published on Time.com.

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