Minnesotans head to the polls Tuesday for the state's first presidential primary in nearly three decades, one of 14 contests shaping up as a "Super Tuesday" battle between two ideological wings of the Democratic Party.
While Minnesota awards just 75 of the 1,991 delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination, Sen. Amy Klobuchar's decision to bow out on the eve of the primary has thrown the contest for her home state wide open. Recent polls had projected a close race between Klobuchar and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who won the state's presidential caucuses in 2016. On Monday, however, Klobuchar endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden at a rally in Dallas, although her name remains on the ballot.
So, too, will the names of two other contenders who dropped out in recent days: former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer. They and several other candidates who dropped out earlier still racked up votes from Minnesotans because of the state's early voting system, which began Jan. 17.
Much has changed in the 48 hours leading up to Super Tuesday.
"Those who haven't voted early for [Klobuchar] or someone else are going to be ... waking up to a headline on Super Tuesday that says the hometown senator isn't running for president anymore," said Mike Erlandson, a former chairman for the state DFL Party.
Sanders heads into Super Tuesday with a delegate lead, but it remains to be seen whether his strong progressive movement in Minnesota and elsewhere will push him even further to the front of the pack on a day when more than one-third of the delegates nationwide will be allocated.
Biden, meanwhile, is hoping to build on a commanding win in South Carolina to consolidate support in the party's moderate wing, which is alarmed at the prospect of nominating Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist. Despite Klobuchar's endorsement, Biden, focusing on states with larger delegate hauls, has not mounted a robust campaign in Minnesota.
Tuesday also will be a first test for former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in Super Tuesday states, including Minnesota, after skipping the first four contests. For Sanders, a Minnesota win is a chance to show he's held onto support from 2016. With a strong base in Minnesota, Sanders made a final pitch to thousands of voters Monday night at a rally and concert in St. Paul.
"I want to open the door to Amy's supporters, to Pete's supporters," Sanders told the crowd. "I know that there are political differences, but I know that virtually all of Amy's supporters and Pete's supporters understand that we have to move toward a government that believes in justice, not in greed." He said the issues that unite Democrats are greater than what divides them, and described himself as the best candidate to defeat Trump.
Sanders' supporters, buoyed by early state wins and strong polling nationwide, spent the weekend knocking on doors and calling voters across the state. They see his strength as a sign that the political winds are shifting in their favor.
Lela Wright, a small-business owner from St. Paul, came with her family to Sanders' rally and said she thinks the senator is "going to surprise us all" on Super Tuesday.
"He's consistent. He has been fighting for the same thing since he was a young man and he's unwavering with what he believes in," Wright said. "He's passionate, he's humble and he has drawn the attention of the youth." While Sanders and Klobuchar appeared to put the most energy into carrying Minnesota, others have been active as well. Bloomberg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have both made campaign stops in the state and have paid staff on the ground. Multiple campaigns aired TV ads heading into the final weekend.
Volunteers have also been making their final pitches. Fay Nosow planned to spend Monday knocking on 70 doors to make the case once more for the candidate she believes is the smartest and most capable — Warren. Her support for the Massachusetts senator was cemented during the presidential hopeful's summer rally at Macalester College and hasn't been shaken by lackluster showings in early voting states.
"The stakes are high," actress Ashley Judd told about 25 Warren backers, including Nosow, who gathered for a conversation in the atrium of a St. Paul office building Sunday afternoon. Judd, one of the candidate surrogates who visited the state this weekend, asked supporters to imagine it was the day after the primary. "Will I have wanted to make that last phone call? Knocked on that last door? Had that last courageous conversation?"
Minnesota Republicans also have a chance to go to the polls on Tuesday, though their primary is hardly contested. GOP ballots here offer just two options: President Donald Trump or a write-in candidate. While the divisive battle over the Democratic nominee could continue to the July convention, Trump supporters are focused on November's general election. It remains to be seen whether concerns over privacy will have an effect on primary turnout in Minnesota. Information about which political party voters align with will be shared between the four major parties in the state: The DFL, GOP and two marijuana-legalization parties.
Clergy, state and local government staff and others have raised concerns about their party affiliation becoming public, but attempts to change the state law ahead of Tuesday appeared unlikely to succeed.
Torey Van Oot • 651-925-5049
Jessie Van Berkel • 651-925-5044