Bernie Sanders: 'Stay Tuned ... We Can Win This Thing'

Mar 9, 2016
Originally published on March 10, 2016 4:22 am

Bernie Sanders was the story of Tuesday night as he beat Hillary Clinton in Michigan's Democratic presidential primary. It wasn't a walloping — he won by less than 2 points — but still a big coup considering Clinton led in most polls by double digits before the race.

Michigan is Sanders' ninth state win, though Clinton still leads in delegates overall.

That means Sanders is only partway up a steep hill to the nomination.

"I am used to climbing steep hills," Sanders told NPR's Ari Shapiro, host of All Things Considered, noting that when he began his campaign he was unknown to most Americans. "Stay tuned. I think we are going to go further and we have a good chance to pull off the biggest political upset in the modern history of America. We can win this thing."

As far as the delegate count so far goes, he admits, "We have not done well in the deep South," but adds that "it's not surprising. The South is a pretty conservative area, I'm not a conservative."

But he points out the wins he has had in New England, the Midwest and West. Given those, he said, he thinks he has a "pretty good chance" to win in New York and an "excellent chance" in California, Oregon, Hawaii and smaller states like Montana and Idaho.

However, an NPR analysis found that even if on Tuesday, Sanders wins 55 percent of the delegates in Florida, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio, but Clinton wins 60 percent in North Carolina, Sanders would slip further behind, needing 54 percent of all remaining delegates.

After next week, even if Sanders wins four large, non-Southern contests (Wisconsin, Oregon, Washington and California) with 60 percent, he would still need to pick up 51 percent of the delegates from all remaining contests to win a majority of pledged delegates.

And there's another challenge ahead of him. He won Michigan largely thanks to white voters, but has struggled to appeal to African-Americans. He won a larger share of black votes in Michigan than he had been winning, but still not a majority — just around 30 percent.

The real hurdle, he says, is getting his message out to black voters — in a way that Hillary Clinton hasn't already.

"I don't think it's a question of us winning over black voters, I think it is a question of Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton having very strong support in the African-American community," he said. "I congratulate them."

Sanders also responded to his comment in the last debate that drew ire from some black leaders ("When you're white, you don't know what it's like to be living in a ghetto"), emphasizing his track record on poverty.

"There's no candidate who has talked more about poverty in this country than I have. White poverty, black poverty and Latino poverty," he said. "Now it would be nice if every once in a while the media paid attention to those issues, which we don't."

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The biggest surprise from last night's primaries came in Michigan. Bernie Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton, even though Clinton had led in the polls leading up to the vote. Sen. Sanders joins us now from Florida, one of the big prizes in next week's elections. Welcome to the show, and congratulations on your win last night.

BERNIE SANDERS: Well, thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be with you.

SHAPIRO: Since your victory, you sent out a handful of fundraising e-mails, and I'm curious how much you have raised off of last night's Michigan win.

SANDERS: I honestly don't know, but I will tell you this. We have received over 5 million individual campaign contributions since we began this campaign, averaging about $27.

SHAPIRO: I wondered if you were going to say $27. I've heard that number before.


SHAPIRO: Now, let's talk about how you won Michigan, largely in thanks to white voters, which has also been true in other states where you've done well. And I wonder about your effort to close the gap with Secretary Clinton among African-American voters, particularly in light of your remarks on Sunday night - when you're white, you don't know what it's like to be living in a ghetto, which many black leaders criticized.

SANDERS: Number one, let's relax a little bit here. We began at 3 percent in the polls. Since then, we have now won nine states, most of them by very, very large margins. Last night we won Michigan by a point and a half. We started off in very low numbers in the African-American community. Those numbers have been going up. And, in fact, last night in Michigan, as I understand it through exit polls, we won about 32 percent of the African-American vote and maybe one-half of young African-Americans. In Colorado and in Nevada, we believe we won the Latino vote. So we have come a long, long way in a reasonably short period of time. Let me say something about your remarks. There's no candidate who has talked more about poverty in this country than I have. The fact is we have the highest rate of childhood property of any major country on Earth, which is a national disgrace. Thirty-five percent of African-American kids are living in poverty. Fifty-one percent of African-American high school graduates between 17 and 20 are unemployed or underemployed. So when you're talking about poverty, I would suggest to you that I am the candidate who talks and knows more about that issue, I believe, than any other candidate out there and has a legislative agenda that will address those problems - raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, creating...

SHAPIRO: Then why do you think you have had so much difficulty winning over black voters so far in the primaries?

SANDERS: I don't think it's a question of winning over black voters. I think it is a question of Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton having very strong support in African-American community, and I congratulate them for that. But I do believe and I think what the evidence suggests is that the more and more people know my record on criminal justice, on economics, in the African-American community, in the Latino community, we are doing better and better and better.

SHAPIRO: Senator, I'd like to ask about jobs and trade. Your message on trade really struck a nerve in Michigan. When you talk about your proposals to put Americans back to work, you talk a lot about rebuilding roads and bridges. Beyond infrastructure improvements, what is your plan to create American jobs?

SANDERS: Well, for a start, when you have in Flint, Mich., a water system which is poisoning children and, to a lesser degree, we have collapsing water systems in many communities in this country, yes, we need to invest heavily in rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. We have a plan for a trillion-dollar investment that would create up to 13 million decent-paying jobs. Second of all, you are quite right in saying that we did well in Michigan yesterday because of our trade position. NAFTA and permanent normal trade relations with China have cost us millions of decent-paying jobs. As president, I intend to change those policies and demand that corporate America start investing in this country, not just in Mexico, China and other low-wage countries. In terms of other economic policies to create jobs, we will be supporting medium-sized businesses and small businesses, providing tax incentives to them.

SHAPIRO: Let's look at the map going forward. Even though your surprise win in Michigan was the big headline of the night, Secretary Clinton actually came out of last night's contest with a wider delegate lead than before after her strong win in Mississippi. She's now more than 200 pledged delegates ahead of you, not including the superdelegates. So at some point, in order to secure this nomination, you have to start winning more, bigger states by wider margins than you've been able to do so far. When do you expect we will begin to see that happen?

SANDERS: Well, as I'm sure you know, the caucus and primary map up until this point has really favored the secretary because a lot of her victories, including her big victory in Mississippi yesterday, are in the deep South. So let me be very frank - we have not done well in the deep South, and it's not surprising. The south is a pretty conservative area. I'm not a conservative. But we have already won nine caucuses and primaries in New England. We've won them in the Midwest. We've won it in the Southwest. And it turns out that the caucuses and primaries that are now coming up in the future, I think, are looking pretty good for us. So you are looking at large states, like New York state, where we think we have a pretty good chance to win. You're look at the West Coast, where I think we have an excellent chance to win in California, Oregon, Washington state, Hawaii, smaller states like Montana and Idaho. So I think that the coming primaries and caucuses actually favor us. So the deep South was very good for Secretary Clinton, but I should also point out to you that a lot of those states in the deep South, unfortunately - I wish I could tell you otherwise - are probably not going to be won in the general election by Secretary Clinton or myself. But when we win, as we did in Colorado and in Minnesota and in Michigan, these are - and New Hampshire - these are battleground states, which Democrats have to win. We have already won them.

SHAPIRO: We actually did the math looking ahead. And if you have an extraordinarily good night on Tuesday, winning Florida, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio, every state but North Carolina, and you go on to win Wisconsin, Oregon and California by large margins, you would still need 51 percent of all the delegates from all the remaining contests, not factoring in superdelegates. That seems like an extremely steep hill to climb.

SANDERS: Well (laughter), let me tell you something. When I started 60 or 70 points behind Secretary Clinton, how was that? Was that a pretty steep hill to climb? Yesterday, some observers said that we pulled off one of the biggest political upsets in the history of American politics, so stay tuned. I think we are going to go further, and we have a good chance to pull off the biggest political upset in the modern history of America. We can win this thing. We've got a path towards victory. I think we have the momentum. We're looking forward to a victory.

SHAPIRO: That's Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the winner of last night's Michigan primary. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.