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Joe Biden preaches unity at lively Detroit rally before Michigan’s Democratic primary

MLive Ann Arbor logo MLive Ann Arbor 3/10/2020 By Malachi Barrett, mlive.com
a man in a blue uniform holding their hands up: Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, on Monday, March 9, 2020. © Mike Mulholland | mmulholl@mlive.com/Mike Mulholland | MLive.com/mlive.com/TNS Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, on Monday, March 9, 2020.

DETROIT, MI -- Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden preached the importance of repairing America’s divisions during a festive rally on the last day before Michigan’s primary election.

An all-star cast of Democrats roused an enthusiastic crowd in the gymnasium of Renaissance High School in Detroit Monday. Biden took the stage nearly two hours after the event was scheduled to start, following Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, and former Democratic opponents Kamala Harris and Cory Booker.

Biden took aim at Democratic rival Bernie Sanders early on, challenging Sanders’ claim that Biden can’t inspire enough support to take on President Donald Trump in November. The former vice president had struggled to gain support in the first three states to hold primary contests, but Biden has since surged back to become the front-runner.

Joe Biden holding a sign: Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, on Monday, March 9, 2020. © Mike Mulholland | mmulholl@mlive.com/Mike Mulholland | MLive.com/mlive.com/TNS Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, on Monday, March 9, 2020.

“A week ago, the press and the pundits had declared this campaign dead,” Biden said. “Then South Carolina spoke. Then super Tuesday spoke. The turnout was incredible ... Michigan I’m counting on you in a big way.”

Moments later, two men holding signs that criticized Biden’s role in passing the North American Free Trade Agreement disrupted the speech. Within minutes of being ejected, another group of roughly one dozen protesters began chanting near the front of the stage.

a close up of Joe Biden holding a sign: Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, on Monday, March 9, 2020. © Mike Mulholland | mmulholl@mlive.com/Mike Mulholland | MLive.com/mlive.com/TNS Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, on Monday, March 9, 2020.

The second group held signs reading “Green New Deal Now” and wore the logo of progressive climate change group the Sunrise Movement, which endorsed Sanders. The Vermont senator also attacked Biden’s support for NAFTA on the campaign trail.

Biden encouraged the crowd and security to take it easy on the protesters, saying “this isn’t a Trump rally." Biden asked the demonstrators to join his movement as they were escorted from the building.

“I refuse to accept the notion that we are in a perpetual state of war against the other party,” Biden said later. “We have to be ready to heal. We have to heal our divisions, or else our democracy will be in real jeopardy beyond what it is now.”

Biden didn’t reference Sanders for the rest of the night, instead of focusing on Trump and restoring unity to the country. Biden said Trump’s corrosive politics has also reduced America’s standing on the world stage.

Joe Biden wearing a suit and tie: Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, on Monday, March 9, 2020. © Mike Mulholland | mmulholl@mlive.com/Mike Mulholland | MLive.com/mlive.com/TNS Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, on Monday, March 9, 2020.

“The world is watching and saying what in God’s name is happening in America,” Biden said. “The whole world knows the United States can’t be trusted.”

Gilchrist, Michigan’s first black lieutenant governor, said he voted for Sanders in the 2016 primary because there was no one with the “record, results and relationships" of Biden on the ballot. Sanders won Michigan in 2016, but Gilchrist said Biden will win this time with a diverse coalition of voters.

“What we need in 2020 is somebody who is going to have a vision that includes all of us," Gilchrist said.

Biden pledged to take on gun manufacturers and pass reforms to reduce the threat of gun violence. He also highlighted the need to reduce student debt and touted his plan to expand the Affordable Care Act.

Harris, who criticized Biden’s stances on racial issues as a candidate, said Biden will fight for a better future. She said Biden has the “strength to lift up the people" and warned the largely black audience that “powerful forces” are trying to disenfranchise voters.

Joe Biden wearing a suit and tie: Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, on Monday, March 9, 2020. © Mike Mulholland | mmulholl@mlive.com/Mike Mulholland | MLive.com/mlive.com/TNS Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, on Monday, March 9, 2020.

“They’re trying to say to us do not trust your government,” Harris said. "They are trying to convince us that we are alone. What we know is the power is with the people. What we know is that we will not be overlooked and we will not be canceled.”

Joe Biden wearing a suit and tie: Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, on Monday, March 9, 2020. © Mike Mulholland | mmulholl@mlive.com/Mike Mulholland | MLive.com/mlive.com/TNS Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, on Monday, March 9, 2020.

Whitmer and Duggan praised Biden for his role in Detroit’s economic recovery after the Great Recession. Both said Biden was an advocate of the auto bailout to support Detroit’s automakers during the financially challenging time.

“They had our backs, and so today I say let’s have Joe Biden’s back,” Whitmer said.

The Detroit rally was the last of several campaigns stops Biden made with surrogates the day before Michigan’s Tuesday primary. Biden appeared with Michigan Whitmer at a community health center in Grand Rapids and was joined by Booker in Flint before headlining a fundraiser at the Detroit Athletic Club.

Biden was joined on stage by Cynthia and Edsel Ford, NAACP Detroit President Rev. Wendell Anthony, Whitmer and Booker. Duggan compared Biden’s political comeback to Detroit’s economic recovery at the event.

“I remember when Detroit was in bankruptcy and they were saying turn out the lights," Duggan said. “Joe Biden was here every three or four months helping us with on busses and housing ... Never for a second did I have one doubt about this man."

Sanders appeared to be in a strong position to win Michigan in the months leading up to the primary, but the dynamics of the race radically changed in the week of the campaign. Biden’s commanding victory in South Carolina and success on Super Tuesday caused several competing candidates to drop out and endorse the former vice president.

a close up of Joe Biden holding a sign: Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, on Monday, March 9, 2020. © Mike Mulholland | mmulholl@mlive.com/Mike Mulholland | MLive.com/mlive.com/TNS Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, on Monday, March 9, 2020.

Whitmer and several other Democratic lawmakers held back on endorsing a candidate for most of the primary but quickly followed suit to line up behind Biden in the last several days. The campaign touted the endorsements from 93 elected officials across the state.

a close up of Joe Biden holding a sign: Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, on Monday, March 9, 2020. © Mike Mulholland | mmulholl@mlive.com/Mike Mulholland | MLive.com/mlive.com/TNS Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, on Monday, March 9, 2020.

Throughout the primary, polls of likely Michigan voters found the Vermont senator ahead by a comfortable margin. Polls taken in the last week illustrated a dramatic shift in public sentiment, with Biden pulling ahead by double digits and even reaching a 39-point margin of victory in one poll.

Dondre Young, a 27-year-old Flint resident, said Biden should’ve spent more time in Michigan in the months leading up to Michigan’s primary. He remains undecided after attending a Sanders event in Flint and wanted to hear more from Biden before casting his ballot.

Joe Biden wearing a suit and tie: Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, on Monday, March 9, 2020. © Mike Mulholland | mmulholl@mlive.com/Mike Mulholland | MLive.com/mlive.com/TNS Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, on Monday, March 9, 2020.

Tammy Lewis, a 59-year-old Redford resident, said she’s not surprised that Biden has pulled ahead as the campaign advanced. She said Biden is the better option to take on Trump.

“I think Joe has more stable policies,” Lewis said. “I think they are more mainstream. I think it’s what a majority of the country is going to support and get behind. Right now we have to have some normalcy in our country. We can’t put up with another four years.”

Sanders hit the ground for a three-day campaign blitz across Michigan. The Vermont senator attended public events in Detroit, Flint, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, and Dearborn, capped off by participating in a Fox News town hall in Dearborn Tuesday night.

Elijah Drake, a 22-year-old Grand Rapids resident, said he attended Sanders’ rally in Ann Arbor and remains undecided. He said the recent string of endorsements from figures like U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., are a good sign for Biden’s ability to win in November.

“What I like about Biden is probably the electability,” Drake said. “I worry that he might not mobilize voters who would not vote otherwise, however, a lot of people are saying they are disenfranchised against Trump so I’m hoping his message of unity against Trump will bring people to vote.”

Sanders’ events were well-attended, but Biden’s rally had a markedly different atmosphere. While Sanders pledged to continue a difficult battle against the Democratic establishment, Biden and his surrogates celebrated the strength of their united front.

“The days of Donald Trump’s divisiveness are soon to be over,” Biden said.

Related stories:

Biden’s momentum in Michigan underscored by flow of endorsements

The big question for Michigan Democrats: Is Biden or Sanders more likely to beat Trump?

As Bernie Sanders makes a big push in Michigan, Joe Biden sends surrogates

One day before Michigan’s Primary, 73% of requested absentee ballots have been cast

5 things to watch in Tuesday’s Michigan primary results

Michigan election is Tuesday, and it’s not just a presidential primary

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