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Clinton, Trump, test, anti-establishment, anger, Michigan

Clinton and Trump will test strength of anti-establishment anger in Michigan

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will face significant tests of strength on Tuesday in Michigan, the blue-collar industrial state that has emerged as an important milestone on the path to the White House.

Despite taking commanding leads in their nomination races after Super Tuesday, both candidates face an unpredictable electorate with the potential to surprise – particularly in the Republican contest where a backlash against Trump is growing.

Clinton’s dominance among Democrats appears much more secure, thanks to her overwhelming support among southern voters. But Bernie Sanders took three out of four states and a majority of delegates over the weekend, and the former secretary of state is still looking for a first convincing win in the north.

With Michigan reeling from a water contamination crisis in Flint and long-term economic decline in Detroit, the state provides an intense test bed for the anti-establishment anger that has characterised the election so far.

On Sunday, at a Democratic debate in Flint, Sanders and Clinton clashed over the economy. The senator accused the secretary of backing “disastrous” free trade policies that have hit manufacturing, but also faced unexpected questions on whether his opposition to Wall Street bailouts had jeopordised separate support for the auto industry.

Clinton has the backing of union leaders and a track-record among African American voters that means victory in the state could all but obliterate what is already a slim path forward for Sanders, who is likely to lose heavily in Mississippi as well.

Among Republicans, Trump has been riding a wave of trade-based sentiment, promising to rewrite the terms of trade with China and to limit illegal immigration that some blame for driving down US wages.

But the bombastic style of his campaign – characterised as neo-fascist by his many critics – appears to be turning off moderate Republicans, who are rallying around any candidate with the potential to slow his ascent.

Ted Cruz emerged the victor from weekend voting, taking a narrow overall majority of delegates in Kanas, Maine, Louisiana and Kentucky.

Ohio governor John Kasich has been gaining polling momentum and threatens to perform a similar role on Tuesday, as a rallying point against Trump.

The latest polling in Michigan, released by Monmouth University on Monday, shows Trump leading at 36%, over Cruz at 23%, Kasich at 21% and Marco Rubio at 13%, under the threshold to win any delegates at all. Clinton has a 55% to 42% lead against Sanders.

The scale of the uncertainty facing Republicans could be further underlined in the other states voting on Tuesday. Cruz is likely to take Idaho, Trump should win in Mississippi and the struggling Rubio could make up ground in Hawaii.

With Trump only ahead by 384 delegates to Cruz’s 300, and Rubio and Kasich on 151 and 37 respectively, the prospect that Trump may lose winner-take-all contests in Florida and Ohio on 15 March could all but eliminate the chances of any candidate reaching the required 1,237 delegates to secure the nomination outright.

Instead, all factions in the party are increasingly preparing for a so-called “brokered convention” in Cleveland in July, in which, after an inconclusive first round, state delegates would no longer be bound to vote in line with the wishes of primary voters. Delegates would then become the subject of fierce horse-trading from the competing campaigns.

The Democratic convention may be less dramatic, but nor will it be quiet. Clinton is ahead of Sanders in the delegate race by 1,130 to 499 and only needs 2,383 to win outright. But 458 of these are controversial “super delegates”, whose use Sanders has criticised.

The Vermont senator has pledged to continue to campaign, even if his path to victory becomes mathematically impossible.