Bernie Sanders Cancels Mississippi Rally, Shifting Focus to Michigan

Bernie Sanders Cancels Mississippi Rally, Shifting Focus to Michigan

BURLINGTON, Vt. — Senator Bernie Sanders has canceled a planned rally in Jackson, Miss., and will instead travel to Michigan on Friday, a striking indication that his presidential campaign is shifting its focus to the Midwest and largely ceding another Southern state to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., according to people familiar with the plans.

After holding a rally in Phoenix on Thursday night, Mr. Sanders had been scheduled to travel to Jackson on Friday for a rally focused on racial justice.

The change in plans suggests that Mr. Sanders will not challenge Mr. Biden for the support of black voters in the South — a vital base in the Democratic Party — and is instead going all-in on the Midwest as he tries to compete with Mr. Biden for working-class voters there. Black voters in the South have overwhelmingly backed Mr. Biden to this point, and on Super Tuesday their support lifted him in states like Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia.

In Alabama, Mr. Sanders won only 9 percent of black voters, compared with 72 percent for Mr. Biden, according to exit polls. Mr. Biden outperformed Mr. Sanders among black voters in Virginia by more than 50 points, and by 40 points or more in Texas and North Carolina. In several states, Mr. Sanders came in third among black voters, behind not only Mr. Biden but also Michael R. Bloomberg.

The dramatic shift in his schedule was also an acknowledgment that he had not improved his standing among black voters in the South four years after his first run for president. In 2016, he faced criticism for his inability to organize support from black voters, a weakness that contributed to his loss to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary.

Mr. Sanders indicated he planned to focus on the Midwest during a hurried news conference with reporters on Wednesday. Asked if he had to win next Tuesday in Michigan — a primary he won in 2016 — Mr. Sanders suggested he did.

“We are going in there with a full expectation and the hope that we will win,” he said. “Michigan is obviously an enormously important state. It’s a state I feel very comfortable in.”

He also underscored the importance of other Midwestern states, including Wisconsin and Indiana. President Trump won both of those and Michigan in the 2016 general election; Barack Obama won all three in 2008.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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