Before Tuesday, the question for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders was whether he could transfer the strength he showed four years ago in Minnesota’s caucuses to the state’s new primary format. Could the candidate with the best grassroots operation and the most enthusiastic supporters — a premium in organizing 4,000-plus precinct caucuses — be as successful among the larger primary electorate?
He couldn’t. In an upset, former Vice President Joe Biden won Minnesota by a decisive margin. With 94.6 percent of precincts reporting, Biden led with 38.6 percent of the vote. Sanders had 29.9 percent.
Biden, with a minuscule state operation, benefited from the popularity of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who decided to drop out of the presidential race a day before the primary and endorse the former vice president.
Biden not only won the state, he also finished first in almost every congressional district, which Democrats use as a way to allocate most of the 76 delegates to the party’s nominating convention. Of the 49 delegates decided by congressional district voting, Biden won 26, Sanders 18 and Warren 5. The other 26 delegates are decided by statewide results. The final total for all delegates was Biden 38, Sanders 27 and Warren 10.
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg did not reach the 15 percent threshold needed under Democratic Party rules to get any delegates.
The Klobuchar effect
In a primary season that has been subject to weekly and even daily momentum swings, the four days between the South Carolina primary and Super Tuesday balloting were decisive. They included a big Biden win in South Carolina and decisions by both Klobuchar and former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg to drop out of the race and endorse Biden.
When the Associated Press called Minnesota for Biden Tuesday night, Corey Day, the campaign’s senior advisor in Minnesota, credited Klobuchar. “We had a great day today here,” the former executive director of the state DFL said. “We’re going to send Trump out of the White House.”
Biden called Klobuchar, who was at home in Minneapolis Tuesday night, to thank her for her support, said Justin Buoen, Klobuchar’s campaign manager. He noted a recent Minnesota poll showed Klobuchar winning her home state, with Sanders behind and Biden trailing. “I think Amy put him over the top here in Minnesota,” he said. Klobuchar will continue to campaign with Biden.
The vote from the Twin Cities illustrated Biden’s unexpected strength.
Though Sanders won the 5th Congressional District, which encompasses all of Minneapolis and several first-ring suburbs, the margin was such that he will get four of the district’s 10 delegates while Biden will get three, as will Elizabeth Warren.
In the 4th Congressional District, which includes St. Paul and its eastern suburbs, Biden easily defeated Sanders and Warren. The 4th and 5th are the only two congressional districts where Warren won enough support to garner any delegates, though she will get some of the statewide delegate allocation if her numbers hold.
Biden won everywhere else — in the Twin Cities suburbs and in Greater Minnesota. He did so with support from both longtime fans and from voters who decided late or switched from other candidates, perhaps at the urging of Klobuchar and Buttigieg.
Latrice Winston, a Brooklyn Park resident who works in health care, voted for Biden and supported him throughout the primary because she thought the former vice president has a good chance of beating Trump. Health care, housing and education were issues for Winston, but her support for Biden went beyond the policy. “I like his personality,” Winston said. “I like his energy.”
Asia Givens, a Minneapolis resident and mental health professional who attended the Biden election night party at Elsie’s in Northeast Minneapolis, said she was undecided until yesterday. But after research and watching debates, she settled on Biden as the candidate who was most likely to beat Trump and, “bring both Republicans and Democrats together.” She called Sanders a “visionary” who has some policies she supports, but she said he “doesn’t have a clear plan” to get those policies through Congress.
State Rep. Dan Wolgamott, a St. Cloud DFLer who originally supported Klobuchar, quickly endorsed Biden once Klobuchar left the race. He said Biden could “restore America’s name and standing throughout the world.”
Wolgamott was nearly prevented from voting for Biden. He had left the state Capitol to vote on Monday when he learned Klobuchar had dropped out. “If she would have decided like an hour later I would have had my vote locked in,” he said.
Wolgamott, who represents a swing district in the Legislature, said Biden would better help Democratic candidates win “up and down the ballot.”
Many centrist Democrats across the country have raised concern Sanders could hurt the party in congressional and legislative races. “I don’t have to wonder how Joe Biden does in my district because he’s won it in the past — more than once,” Wolgamott said, referring to Biden’s time on the presidential ticket with Barack Obama.
Rita and Larry Nelson, two retirees from Fridley, initially supported Klobuchar but decided over the weekend to support Biden because they didn’t believe Klobuchar was as likely to win the nomination. “She made our decision a lot easier (by dropping out), but we were voting for Biden anyway,” Larry Nelson said.
Disappointment among Sanders supporters
At BlackStack Brewing in Midway-Hamline in St. Paul on Tuesday night, Cindy Yang of Brooklyn Park gathered with other Sanders supporters. “I really thought Minnesota was purple in the presidential 2016 election, and I think we’re showing up just as purple in this primary, and I think it’ll turn out purple again in the general,” she said.
The results surprised her, and she worried about the process. “To have Klobuchar do what she did to the state. It was just really unfair,” she said. “I’m not happy with the establishment, the Democrats. I’m not happy with how they’ve rigged the system over and over again.”
Ruth Fen, a graphic designer and landlord in Minneapolis, said Sanders’ approach to health care and the environment are why she supported him. “It’s everything. I just think he’s got so much conviction… He’s not doing it for the power or anything.”
Malachy Zamacona, from St. Paul, just graduated from Hamline University and works for the census. While he said he was disappointed with the results, he said he would support Biden if he won the nomination. “Whomever the Democratic nominee is will get my vote; I would just be more excited if it was Bernie.
“Biden does have a lot of black supporters behind him, which is a big thing to turn out that vote,” he said. “And I feel like most of Bernie’s supporters would support Biden, whereas I don’t think a lot of Biden supporters would come and support Bernie. So I think that would be one thing to consider.”
Sey Lee, a research coordinator in the Twin Cities, said she backs Sanders even though many of her family members supported Andrew Yang. “I think, for me, what’s fundamental about his campaign is his understanding that the system itself, the way that it’s set up, historically, and how it continues to be, is to disenfranchise the working class, people of color, Hmong people, refugees.”
Republicans held a primary Tuesday too. But with President Trump the only candidate on the ballot, he won 97.6 percent of the vote. And with a winner-take-all format, he will be awarded all 36 delegates at stake.
It’s a bit more complicated on the Democratic Party side. Not only are there lots of candidates, but the delegate allocation rules have two attributes the GOP doesn’t. First, candidates must win at least 15 percent of the vote to win any delegates. And the eight congressional districts each have separate allocations, which also require a 15 percent threshold.
If a nominee isn’t selected on the first ballot, Democrats turn to the 750 so-called automatic delegates (what were called Super Delegates in 2016). Minnesota has 16 automatic delegates include former Vice President Walter Mondale, Gov. Tim Walz, the Democratic members of the congressional delegation as well as party officers and national committee members. They are not pledged to any candidate.
MinnPost staff writers Jessica Lee, Greta Kaul and Walker Orenstein contributed to this report.