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Then-candidate Donald Trump won only 36.5 percent of the Republican primary vote in March but ended up winning the state's final vote in November 2016.
But Tuesday's race between Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, who holds more than 50 percent of the vote with 10 percent of precincts reporting, is expected to foreshadow the Democratic nominee as two extremely different Democratic candidates enter the ring of Michigan's working class.
“Michigan is obviously a very important state today, there's a lot of delegates up there, and we certainly very much want to win this debate. But, I think, let's not say what you have to win,” the Vermont senator told reporters Tuesday in Dearborn, Michigan.
Sanders, Biden and Trump are trying to appeal to voters who are looking for blue-collar job security and fair wages ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Michigan is the largest of six states voting Tuesday.
Many voters, however, are already wondering whether Trump can again win the state that signaled his nationwide victory nearly four years ago because he still appears to have the favor of Michigan's working class in regard to social views like the Second Amendment and abortion.
Biden, who won 10 states and secured a slim delegate lead on Super Tuesday and is up by a whopping 24 percentage points, came under fire Tuesday for getting in a disagreement with a Michigan voter who accused Biden of not standing up for Americans' Second Amendment rights, calling the voter "full of s--t" and "a horse's a--."
Others wonder if Sanders, who is lagging just behind Biden in primary states, can appeal to more moderate voters with his strong socialist policy ideas.
Trump has visited Michigan several times as president and points to a strong national economy as proof he kept his promises to restore the state’s lost jobs.
Manufacturing jobs in Michigan grew from 616,800 when Trump took office to 628,900 last December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But some counties that Trump won have experienced job losses, and the state faces the prospect of further downturns as coronavirus reverberates through the economy.
Sanders and Biden are therefore expected to garner some more trust from union leaders across the state.
However, Monroe County Democratic Chairman Matt Vitiote said there is a chance that even those "union households who voted for Trump and voted against their own economic interests" in 2016 "may do that again."
Monroe County, located near the Michigan-Ohio border, twice supported Barack Obama but voted for Trump in 2016.
Sanders said at a rally Sunday in Grand Rapids that he is "more than aware that Trump in 2016 won the state of Michigan by a small vote," but he does "believe the people of Michigan aren’t going to make that mistake again."
Voters involved in the manufacturing industry who have been disappointed by Trump's trade war with China and resulting tariff complications are also expected to seek refuge by siding wither Sanders or Biden.
Additionally, Sanders has made a strong effort to bring attention to Flint's lack of access to clean water.
Some voters are under the impression that Biden does not have the same spark as Trump and Sanders to win over voters, which is why most early polls suggest Sanders as the winner among younger voters.
"There’s not a lot of energy, not enough energy, I would say, even for the primary," Michigan state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, a Democrat, said.
"I think sometimes we just wait for something magical to happen, opposed to making sure that there are financial resources in the community to get people out," she added later.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.