HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR: The eyes of the political world now turned particularly to Michigan, which holds the biggest of four primaries, or caucuses, on Tuesday with more delegates at stake for the Democrats than all of this weekend’s contests combined.
Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders meet on the debate stage tonight in Flint, Michigan. For more on the campaign there, I’m joined now by Michigan Public Radio reporter, Rick Pluta. Thanks for joining us.
RICK PLUTA, MICHIGAN PUBLIC RADIO REPORTER: Pleasure.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Rick, as of now, where do the polls stand?
RICK PLUTA: Well, it seems like the polling would suggest that Hillary Clinton is far and away a frontrunner, based largely on having locked down the African-American vote, which is critical in a Michigan Democratic primary. Bernie Sanders in some polls have him trailing by as much as 30 points. He’s trying to turn this into a referendum on free trade agreements, which Hillary Clinton has more of a history of supporting than he does.
On the Republican side, it’s basically a race to see if anyone can stop Donald Trump. Ohio governor John Kasich is probably betting biggest in Michigan. He’s spent the most time here and covered the most ground from the southern part of the state to metro Detroit, all the way to the Marquette in the upper peninsula, which has just three percent of the state’s population. So, he’s invested a lot here.
And a lot of Republicans are trying to lay claim to southeast Michigan’s so-called Reagan Democrats, especially in McComb County, trying to make the case that they can appeal to crossover voters as well or better than Donald Trump, who is leading in almost all the polls right now.
HARI SREENIVASAN: I was going to say, even with all the work that Kasich has put in, Trump still looks like he had a lead. Any idea if the momentum that, say, Ted Cruz might have picked up last night translates into more conservative Michiganders?
RICK PLUTA: It’s possible that Cruz certainly has an organization in Michigan. But Cruz himself has not visited the state since Super Tuesday except for the Republican debate in Detroit. So it begs the question, how hard he’s playing here. Certainly Marco Rubio has tried a bit.
Michigan was really supposed to be Jeb Bush country, and a lot of the state’s standard Republican political culture was getting behind him. So when he dropped out, there were a lot of people sort of wondering where to go, and that support has largely scattered among the other candidates.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And tonight’s Democratic debate puts the spotlight once again on Flint and the water crisis there.
RICK PLUTA: Mm-hmm, oh absolutely. Democrats have tried to make a national issue of Flint as representing Republican incompetence when it comes to governing. As a matter of fact, that was one of the big reasons why after the Flint debate was – was convened by the Democratic party leaders that Republicans felt like they had to put something in Detroit, which — supposed to be something of a success story in urban renewal.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Michigan Public Radio reporter Rick Pluta joining us from Ann Arbor today. Thanks so much.
RICK PLUTA: Pleasure.