Former Vice President Joe Biden won a surprising come-from-behind victory in the Minnesota Democratic presidential primary Tuesday night, edging out Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, long a champion of progressive activists in the state.
Biden’s fortunes appeared to have been buoyed by the endorsement of Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who dropped out of the race on the eve of the 14-state Super Tuesday primaries. Klobuchar had been favored to win her home state in recent polls.
Sanders also appeared to ride a wave of momentum from a dominant win Saturday in South Carolina, a state where he ran strong with a large African American voter base.
Biden had finished fourth in a Star Tribune/MPR poll on Feb. 23, trailing Klobuchar, Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Sanders finished second in the same poll, closing in on Klobuchar.
Sanders, who won the Minnesota caucuses four years ago, had been seen as a strong favorite to carry the state again, the more so after Klobuchar exited the race. Backed by state Attorney General Keith Ellison and U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, Sanders maintained a strong grassroots organization in the state, and held a large rally in St. Paul on the eve of the election.
Biden, though an early favorite in the national Democratic polls, had almost no organization in Minnesota and few high-profile DFL endorsements. Focusing on Super Tuesday states with larger delegate hauls, Biden did not campaign in the state as a 2020 presidential candidate.
With home-state Sen. Amy Klobuchar pulling out of the race on eve of the primary, her backers in Minnesota were left to chose among five other Democratic contenders, among them Biden, who won Klobuchar’s endorsement on Monday. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Hawaii U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard were also competing.
Sanders, however, campaigned the hardest in the state, leveraging a grassroots movement that helped him win the state’s caucuses four years ago. He also held a large rally in St. Paul on the eve of the election, in contrast to Biden, who never campaigned in the state as a 2020 contender.
Recent days have seen the wider Democratic race become a slugfest between Sanders, riding a wave of grassroots support for his promises of political revolution, and Biden, who has been locking up support from electability-minded Democrats worried about Sanders’ chances against President Donald Trump in November.
“I believe in Bernie. I like his track record,” said Mark Webster, a 60-year-old security guard who voted Tuesday afternoon at the Elliot Park Recreation Center. “I know my whole family is voting for Biden. I’ll be honest with you, two days ago I saw a picture of Bernie with Martin Luther King from the ’60s. Those principles and ideals _ I had to.”
Karin Sargent, a 74-year-old retired social worker, said she decided to go for Biden at the last minute.
“I wasn’t going to, but after the events of the last few days I decided to vote for Joe. I liked Pete and Amy so when they went for Biden I decided I would too. For me the main thing is beating Trump.”
The outcome of Minnesota’s primary got a big dose of uncertainty on Monday when home-state politician Klobuchar dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden. Buttigieg, who left the race a day earlier, also endorsed Biden on Monday. But early voting started back on January 17 in Minnesota, giving Klobuchar and other now-defunct candidates weeks in which to rack up votes.
“With Senator Klobuchar’s exit it suddenly made Minnesota much more competitive,” said Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota DFL.
Despite Klobuchar’s presence in the race, Sanders made an aggressive play for Minnesota’s support. Having beaten Hillary Clinton in Minnesota’s presidential caucus in 2016, Sanders built a campaign team here, visited the state several times this cycle and landed endorsements from several high-profile Democrats including Attorney General Keith Ellison and U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar.
Sanders rallied thousands of supporters in St. Paul on Monday night, his final pre-Super Tuesday campaign rally. “I want to open the door to Amy’s supporters, to Pete’s supporters,” he told the crowd.
Most other prominent Democratic politicians in Minnesota had endorsed Klobuchar, though a handful including U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson and state Sen. Tom Bakk publicly shifted to Biden after Klobuchar dropped out. Biden’s campaign hired a senior adviser for Minnesota, but Biden himself never campaigned in the state. The Biden campaign also aired last-minute TV and radio advertisements in Minnesota that featured Klobuchar.
Warren, too, had campaign staff located in Minnesota, and for months staffers and volunteers had worked to build support for her here. But her recent dip in support as states started voting seemed to damage her prospects in Minnesota as well. Bloomberg, who has been pouring millions of dollars of his own money into his campaign, hired several dozen Minnesota staffers and opened a handful of offices statewide, and he campaigned in the state twice in recent months.
Minnesota also held a Republican presidential primary on Tuesday. Trump’s was the only name listed on the ballot, though voters did have a write-in option. Trump has one challenger in former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, but the state Republican Party only submitted Trump’s name for inclusion.
While very low turnout was expected in the GOP primary, a few dedicated Trump supporters came out anyway. In the northern Minnesota city of Virginia, Matthew Dalchow, a 38-year-old welder and military veteran, said he thinks the economy has thrived in Trump’s first term and that increased border security has made the country safer.
“He’s putting Americans first,” Dalchow said.
But the Democratic contest was generating much greater turnout.