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Clinton Looks To Extend Lead Over Sanders In Michigan, Mississippi

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Democrats are voting today in Michigan and Mississippi. Michigan is getting most of the attention because it's a more competitive race. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have each spent millions of dollars on ads there. We're joined now by NPR's Tamara Keith, who is following the Democratic side of the race. Welcome back to the studio, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Thanks, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Let's start with Sanders, who is not seeding any ground to Clinton in Michigan. What does this contest represent for him?

KEITH: This is a big test of whether he can win in a state with blue-collar union voters and a large population of African-Americans. Sanders' campaign manager called Hillary Clinton a regional candidate with most of her strength being in the South. And we'll find out tonight if that's real or if that was wishful thinking.

Over the weekend, Sanders won 3 of 4 contests, but he's still way, way, way behind Clinton in the delegate count. And I'm not even talking about those superdelegates that are concerns for people. So he needs to start winning big to close that gap. Polls indicate that it's going to be tough for him in Michigan. But last night, he told supporters in Ann Arbor that he thinks it's possible.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNIE SANDERS: Michigan has a very important role to play in the fight for fundamental change in America and a political revolution. We will win if there is a large voter turnout. Please make that happen. Thank you, all.

(CHEERING)

KEITH: And his Instagram account today posted a photo, and along with it, there was a message that said, change cannot take place without participation.

SHAPIRO: OK, so Michigan is very important for Sanders tonight. How do you see that reflected in the way he's campaigning and the things that he's talking about on the stump?

KEITH: He has been hitting Hillary Clinton very hard in the state on trade, on NAFTA in particular, the North American Free Trade Agreement that she supported when her husband was president. And he's really been going after her on that. He says that NAFTA cost a lot of people a lot of jobs.

Now, Clinton hit back and instead said Sanders didn't really support the auto bailout. They've been trading back and forth on this. And just to give you an indication of how important that issue is and how they see Michigan, Clinton started running radio ads about the auto bailout. Sanders, within 24 hours, responded with his own radio ads fighting back.

SHAPIRO: How important is a win in Michigan to Hillary Clinton and her campaign?

KEITH: Well, in terms of delegate math, win or lose Michigan, her campaign feels that she'll be OK tonight because of Mississippi, where she expects to win in a very big way. But she's also looking for potentially a decisive win in Michigan so that she can start thinking about the general election. She talked to her supporters about that last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HILLARY CLINTON: The sooner I could become your nominee, the more I could begin to turn our attention to the Republicans.

(CHEERING)

KEITH: So she is at least hinting that she's moving on. But Sanders says he has no intention of getting out of this, and he's looking forward to the primary in California in June.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome.

SHAPIRO: And we will check in on the state of the Republican primaries elsewhere in the program. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.