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Clinton's Weak Link: White, Male Voters


When Bernie Sanders won the primary in Michigan earlier this week, it shook up the narrative of the Democratic race. He is still well behind Hillary Clinton in the delegate count, but he hopes to parlay that win in Michigan to states like Ohio, Illinois and Missouri, which all vote on Tuesday. As NPR's Tamara Keith reports, if he does win in those states, white men could be the key to his victory.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Jim describes himself only half jokingly as an angry white man

JIM: We're pissed off. You know, we haven't gotten raises. Our pensions have been cut. Our health care has increased. And we look at Hillary as part of - and I'm not taking anything away 'cause I admire the woman. She's done great things and nothing against Hillary, but Bernie, he speaks from the trenches. We feel that he is fighting for us.

KEITH: We aren't using Jim's last name because his union, AFSME, has endorsed Hillary Clinton, and Jim obviously support Bernie Sanders. He can't be quoted publicly going against his union. The same is true for Ryan, a member of a building trades union in Cleveland.

RYAN: She's seen as the centrist candidate, and she's a big-money candidate. And big money and centrism hasn't been working for middle-class America for the last 30 years since Reagan.

KEITH: I met both men at a union hall in Cleveland. Both talk about rising health care costs, about trade deals that seem to have hurt much more than they helped. Jim says he's only gotten one raise - really more like a cost-of-living adjustment - in eight years.

JIM: You look at the stock market. It's got up - I don't know - how many, you know, couple hundred percent. You know, my wages have gone up 2.5 percent. Who's speaking to that? Bernie is, and, yeah, I think maybe he's kind of like Don Quixote, but, I mean, that's part of the attraction. It really is part - at least for me.

KEITH: According to exit polls from NBC News, in Michigan, Sanders won 62 percent of white men in the state's primary. There are elements of Hillary Clinton's stump speech designed to speak to working-class men. But it's clear from these interviews Sanders' attacks on Clinton's trade record, her super PAC, her big-money speeches to Wall Street banks - they are breaking through. It nags at Dave Pasalaqua. He likes that Bernie Sanders gets his campaign cash from regular people.

DAVE PASALAQUA: There's that old saying as politicians should be like NASCAR, everyone wear their patch. You know, let's see what the patches are, and he doesn't need to wear a patch 'cause it's his own thing.

KEITH: Pasalaqua is the executive vice president of the Communications Workers of America local in Cleveland. His union has endorsed Sanders, but he's still undecided. Pasalaqua agreed to meet me at Cleveland diner along with Jim Goggin, a fixture in the city's labor community.

JIM GOGGIN: It's pie in the sky. I mean, everything Bernie says I think would be fantastic, but the fact of the matter is that I'm also a realist and I know that you can't do that.

KEITH: For Goggin, it's all about beating the Republicans in November.

GOGGIN: And I wish to God that I thought he could win, but I don't unfortunately think he can win. Consequently, I'm with Hillary because at least she's going to throw us under the bus, the working people.

PASALAQUA: And one good thing that Bernie's been doing, though, even with Hillary, is Bernie has moved Hillary's positions on things.

KEITH: That was Pasalaqua chiming back in. From the outside, it seems like he's having a classic voter struggle between his head and his heart. He isn't convinced Sanders will be able to do what he's promising.

PASALAQUA: Whoever I think is going to be best for me and my family is the bottom line, whoever's going to make, not to steal Donald's line, but America great again because in order to make America great again we've got to make the middle class great again. So whoever's going to do that I think is going to be the best person, and that's who I'll end up having to vote for.

KEITH: No matter how Tuesday's vote turns out and no matter who wins the nomination, all four men said they would support the Democratic nominee. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Cleveland, Ohio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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