U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont at a campaign event.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination who pulled out of a scheduled Mississippi campaign visit earlier this week, previously asked national party leaders to focus efforts in non-early states like Mississippi in order to “awaken activism at the grassroots level.”

Sanders wrote in a 2015 letter to the Democratic National Committee that the national party should host debates “not only in the early states but also in many states which currently do not have much Democratic presidential campaign activity.” In the letter that was posted to his campaign website at the time but later removed, Sanders listed Mississippi as one of those states.

“While a number of these non-target states have not in the past had much organized campaign presence, I believe it is critical for the Democratic Party and progressive forces in America to engage voters in all 50 states and the District of Columbia,” Sanders wrote.

He continued: “By expanding the scope geographically of debates beyond the early calendar states we can begin to awaken activism at the grassroots level in those states and signal to Democrats and progressives in places like Texas, Mississippi, Utah, and Wyoming that their states are not forgotten by the Democratic Party.”

Sanders is one of three remaining candidates vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, including former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

After Biden’s Super Tuesday surge and endorsements from several key political figures, the Sanders campaign cancelled a scheduled March 6 visit to Jackson, instead opting to go to Michigan, where 147 delegates are up for grabs. Mississippi has just 41 delegates.

Sanders, who has not visited Mississippi as a 2020 presidential candidate, told national reporters on Thursday that his scrapping the Mississippi event did not mean his campaign had given up on the state.

“We are bringing more staff into Mississippi,” he said. “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.”

Biden will make his first 2020 Mississippi visit on Sunday. He has plans to visit New Hope Baptist Church in Jackson, as well as a stop at Tougaloo College, a historically black college near Jackson.

The Sanders campaign may also have calculated the candidate’s Mississippi chances based on his poor results in the 2016 Democratic primary. Sanders was soundly defeated in the state’s 2016 Democratic primary by Hillary Clinton. Mississippi delivered Clinton her highest vote share of any state in the nation that year, with Clinton winning 83 percent of the popular vote to Sanders’ 17 percent.

Biden has received key endorsements from most Democratic lawmakers in the state and landed an endorsement from Congressman Bennie Thompson, Mississippi’s only Democrat in Washington.

In explaining his decision to skip his Mississippi visit this week, Sanders also highlighted a key Mississippi endorsement he received last week from Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who had been courted by several Democratic candidates before he publicly backed Sanders. Sanders on Thursday told national reporters that Lumumba would play an “active role” before the primary.

Inside the ‘people’s caucus’ that inspired the Jackson mayor’s Bernie Sanders endorsement

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Adam Ganucheau, as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief, oversees the newsroom and works with the editorial team to fulfill our mission of producing high-quality journalism in the public interest. Adam has covered politics and state government for Mississippi Today since February 2016. A native of Hazlehurst, Adam has worked as a staff reporter for AL.com, The Birmingham News and The Clarion-Ledger and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Adam earned his bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Mississippi.