We said in our inaugural newsletter last week that Pennsylvania could still play a key role in the Democratic primary. Seems the voters in Michigan and elsewhere had other ideas.

Following his commanding Super Tuesday performance, Joe Biden's romp last night in Michigan — where Bernie Sanders had scored an upset against Hillary Clinton in 2016 — put the former VP squarely on the path to the nomination. But there are still lessons to be learned from what happened last night and what it means for November here, so read on.

Also in this edition, we look at how the coronavirus might impact the campaign in Pennsylvania. After both Biden and Sanders canceled their election night rallies yesterday, Biden flew to Philly, where his campaign is based, for a lower-key celebration.

Biden shows he can rebuild the ‘Blue Wall’ in Pa.

Donald Trump’s path to the White House in 2016 ran through Midwestern battlegrounds like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, states Democrats long considered their "Blue Wall."

It was Michigan where Sanders revived his 2016 primary campaign against Clinton. That didn’t work this time, with Biden winning the state by 16 points. Biden not only ran up the score among black voters, he also won by double-digits among voters 45 and older, women, union households, nonunion households, college graduates, and people without college degrees, exit polls said.

Sanders' inability to hold onto voters in more rural areas he won in 2016 is something we were already watching play out here. Julia recently talked to Democrats who backed Sanders in the Pennsylvania counties where he beat Clinton, and found that many of them were voting more against Clinton than they were for Sanders. Visit Inquirer.com first thing tomorrow morning for Julia's full story on that.

Despite the mounting losses, Sanders said today that he's staying in the race. And regardless of how competitive the primary remains here, last night’s results in Michigan are instructive for Pennsylvania.

The two states share similar demographics. Remember, too, that Clinton beat Sanders in Pennsylvania. The Keystone State, which holds a closed primary limited to registered Democrats, could be an even tougher state for Sanders than Michigan, where independents who might gravitate to Sanders can vote. Biden won among Democrats in Michigan last night by 22 points, exit polls show.

"Quite frankly, the support Bernie Sanders had in 2016 is not necessarily indicative of the base of support, or his ability to turn them out maybe, in 2020," Jim Wertz, chairman of the Erie County Democratic Committee, told us this morning.

One more thought: If the primary does wrap up soon, expect to hear more about Pennsylvania’s manufacturing economy. Jon reported this week that Trump’s pledge to revive manufacturing jobs in Erie County has come up short. Erie is one of three counties in Pennsylvania that voted for Barack Obama before swinging to Trump, so any slip in support for the president there could be big.

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch uses hand sanitizer after voting yesterday in Ridgeland, Miss.
Rogelio V. Solis / AP
Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch uses hand sanitizer after voting yesterday in Ridgeland, Miss.

Topic of the week: The coronavirus and 2020

In just one day, the scope of the coronavirus’ effect on the election started to become clear. Biden and Sanders both canceled rallies in Cleveland. The Democratic Party announced that Sunday’s debate won't have a live audience. And election officials are trying to grapple with how to protect voters without disenfranchising them.

Get ready for live-streamed rallies, virtual bus tours, and some Purell with your “I Voted” stickers.

We asked elections officials in Pennsylvania how the state is preparing. Most were short on details said they’re working with local health departments.

“We have started talking about making sure we don’t do any events that inadvertently accelerate the spread,” said state Sen. Sharif Street, vice chair of the state Democratic Party.

Street said health officials suggested campaign events include at least three feet between people — not the typical image of a packed rally.

The new no-excuse absentee ballots and early voting, available for the primary, could help ensure people who don’t want to be in crowded areas can still vote.

What we’re paying attention to

Overheard on the campaign trail

“A lot of this group already had one foot out the door. They might actually be part of Trump’s base now." — Brian Schaffner, a Tufts professor who has researched Sanders-Trump voters, on some of the people who backed Sanders over Clinton in Pa. and elsewhere.

On our radar

There’s a new labor and business coalition forming in Western Pennsylvania to fight environmental policies its stakeholders see as bad for jobs.

Pittsburgh Works Together, a union and business-backed group that includes members of the building trades, the steamfitters, operating engineers, and companies like U.S. Steel and CNX Gas, is launching Thursday in Pittsburgh with a mission to oppose legislation and policies that could hurt industry jobs.

Why it matters: Democrats in Pennsylvania have been divided over natural gas drilling. The tension has played out in the primary and is likely to have a role in the general election. Pittsburgh Works Together is also an unlikely pairing of rank and file union members and their bosses, with money behind their message. The group is financially backed by both the unions and energy and manufacturing companies. The coalition’s creation comes after Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said in the fall that he opposed any new petrochemical plants in western Pennsylvania. Organizers say the 501c6 (a nonprofit organized to promote businesses) is about giving labor and business a more unified say in how Pittsburgh rebuilds itself.

Other resources