Sen. Bernie Sanders has canceled a Mississippi event set for Friday and will instead head to Michigan, one of the pivotal states still on the 2020 Democratic primary calendar.
The shift comes five days before voters head to the polls in both states, which are among the six holding presidential primaries on Tuesday. The Vermont senator, who won Michigan in 2016, lost Southern state primaries to former Vice President Joe Biden by wide margins on Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Sanders said scrapping the event did not mean his campaign had given up on Mississippi. He said, "We are bringing more staff into Mississippi." Sanders noted that he anticipates Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, a campaign backer, will play an "active role" before the primary.
"If possible, I will try to get to Mississippi. But within a short period of time, I think as any candidate will tell you, you have to make a decision where you go and you can't go every place," Sanders said.
The move suggests an all-in focus on Michigan, which awards 125 pledged delegates, as Sanders tries to make up a delegate deficit after Super Tuesday. Polls have found a close race in the state between Sanders and Biden. They were taken before four candidates dropped out of the primary in recent days and three of them endorsed Biden.
Sanders hopes to replicate his 2016 success in Michigan, when he easily beat Hillary Clinton among young voters and performed better with black voters than he did in many Southern states. He hopes a message of combating economic inequality and reining in free trade relationships that sapped Michigan manufacturing jobs will help him compete with Biden for working-class voters.
"I'm going to be in Michigan very shortly and I will be talking in Michigan about the fact that Joe supported disastrous trade agreements like [the North American Free Trade Agreement] and PNTR [permanent normal trade relations] with China, which have cost this country millions of good-paying jobs, devastating to the Midwest in this country," Sanders said.
Biden's campaign will also spend significant time trying to win over Michigan voters before Tuesday. The former vice president will visit Detroit on Monday. His campaign rolled out an endorsement from Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday, and former presidential rival Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota will stump for him there on Friday and Saturday.
In Mississippi, Biden hopes to extend the success he enjoyed in the South on Tuesday. With results still coming in Thursday, he was leading Sanders by about 47 and 18 percentage points, respectively, in Alabama and Arkansas, which border Mississippi.
Asked Thursday what signal he sent to black voters by canceling the Mississippi event, Sanders said, "We are very proud of the fact that we have strong support from the African American community."
The state will award only 36 pledged delegates. But because of proportional allocation, a big Biden victory could net him a significant delegate haul over Sanders.