(CNN)On Thursday morning, with much fanfare (and tweeting), former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign announced that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had endorsed his presidential bid.
Within hours, Bernie Sanders’ campaign announced that the Vermont senator would cancel a planned trip to Mississippi on Friday and instead head directly to Michigan.
These things are not a coincidence.
Michigan, which will hold its primary on March 10, is not only the biggest delegate prize of that day (125 delegates) but also hugely important, symbolically speaking, given that it was one of three critical Midwestern states President Donald Trump flipped to his side in the 2016 presidential race.
In 2016, the Michigan primary was similarly critical. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had support from virtually every elected official in the state, was widely expected to win and, in so doing, effectively end Sanders’ upstart campaign.
But it was Sanders who eked out a 1.5-point win — a surprise victory that breathed new life into his campaign and virtually ensured he would remain in the race until the end (which he did).
That storyline is starting to sound very, very familiar. Sanders entered Super Tuesday as the race’s clear front-runner but, after a series of stunning wins by Biden — most notably in Texas — Sanders finds himself working to convince the party that this is still a fight he can win.
Michigan will, again, be that proving ground for Sanders.
While the state has a significant chunk of black Democrats (21% of the 2016 primary electorate was African American), who have been very loyal backers of Biden’s, there are also lots of working-class white voters living in Michigan — a pillar of Sanders’ support. In 2016, white people with a college degree accounted for 36% of the Michigan primary vote and went for Sanders by 15 points over Clinton.
For Sanders to win again, he needs a similar showing, which may be tough given Biden’s working-class persona.
The Point: Sanders will almost certainly continue on even if he loses Michigan next Tuesday. But his realistic chances of being the nominee will have taken a major hit. He knows all of that, which is why he’s going to be spending a lot of time in the state over the next five days.