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Ron Kampeas | March 9, 2020

WASHINGTON (JTA) — If Bernie Sanders made history in 2016 when he won the New Hampshire Democratic primary, becoming the first Jewish candidate to win a major party primary, Michigan was where he graduated from footnote to chapter in the history books. Only this time, Michigan appears poised to put a major dent in his White House run. What are Michigan’s Jewish voters thinking? We asked several of them for their take on what’s changed between 2016 and today.

For one thing, Donald Trump was elected

Moderate voters were likelier to stay home in 2016 precisely because Clinton seemed inevitable in both the primary and the general election. At least that’s the theory of Noah Arbit, who founded the Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus.

“Hillary was leading the polls in the primaries in Michigan by such a wide margin,” Arbit said. So some of her supporters decided to stay home, while others voted in the Republican primary to vote for Trump because at that point he seemed to be the least electable among GOP candidates. Sanders ended up wining Michigan in 2016 by 1.4 percentage points.

Trump’s presidency has changed the calculus, Arbit said, and moderate voters are likelier to vote for the candidate they believe is best positioned to beat him. That’s Biden, said Arbit, who personally favors the former vice president. This time around, Arbit said, Democrats are “only focused on this question of electability.”

Down-ticket moderates are facing pressure

Moreover, Sen. Gary Peters, a Democrat, is seen as vulnerable in his re-election bid. Peters, like Slotkin and Stevens, is a moderate, and sustaining that approach could be prominent in the thoughts of Democrats heading to the polls, Arbit said.

“Whichever party wins the presidential race in Michigan will also win our Senate race, and that’s a big concern,” he said. “We need a candidate who will not step on the messaging.”

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