Former Vice President Joe Biden pulled off a surprising come-from-behind victory in the Minnesota Democratic presidential primary Tuesday, denying Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders a win in a state he won handily four years ago.
Biden’s fortunes appeared to have been buoyed by the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, 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.
“We won Minnesota because of Amy Klobuchar,” Biden said Tuesday night in a speech from Los Angeles. His Super Tuesday rebound across the nation pushed him back into contention with Sanders, who just days ago appeared to be on track to take an insurmountable lead.
Sanders held a large rally in St. Paul on the eve of the election and had campaign staffers organizing in the state for months. Biden, by contrast, never campaigned in Minnesota as a 2020 candidate and had a single paid employee based in the state. Even on primary night, an event for Biden supporters at Elsie’s in northeast Minneapolis drew only several dozen supporters.
With most precincts reporting by late Tuesday night, Biden led Sanders by more than 55,000 votes. His win had statewide dimensions, carrying multiple big metro counties — including Hennepin, the state’s largest — and outstate counties both large and small.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren finished third in Minnesota, followed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Klobuchar finished fifth with more than 33,000 votes despite her departure from the race the day before.
Early voting that began Jan. 17 is the likely reason she kept that many votes.
Just weeks ago, Biden had finished fourth in a Star Tribune/MPR poll, trailing Klobuchar, Sanders and Warren. Sanders finished second in the same poll, not far behind Klobuchar.
Sanders beat Hillary Clinton in the Minnesota caucuses four years ago by 61% to 38%. He had high-profile backers in state Attorney General Keith Ellison and U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar. A small group of his supporters gathered at BlackStack Brewing in St. Paul on Tuesday night, booing when CNN broadcast Biden’s speech from Los Angeles.
Sarah Katherine Scott, a graphic designer from Minneapolis who came to the Sanders party, was feeling down about Biden’s win.
“He’s out of touch, period,” Scott said.
Recent days have seen the wider Democratic race become a slugfest between Sanders, riding grassroots support for his promise of political revolution, and Biden, who has been locking up support from electability-minded Democrats worried about a self-described democratic socialist’s chances against President Donald Trump.
“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 Recreation Center in Minneapolis. “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 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,” she said. “For me the main thing is beating Trump.”
Most of Minnesota’s prominent Democratic politicians had endorsed Klobuchar. A handful including U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson and state Sen. Tom Bakk publicly shifted to Biden after Klobuchar dropped out.
Biden’s campaign aired last-minute TV and radio ads in Minnesota that featured Klobuchar.
Corey Day, Biden’s senior adviser for Minnesota and a former executive director of the DFL, said Tuesday night that Klobuchar’s “team was very helpful” with getting out the vote for Biden. Justin Buoen, who ran Klobuchar’s campaign, made an appearance at the Biden party in Minneapolis.
Warren, too, had campaign staff in Minnesota, and for months staffers and volunteers had worked to build support here.
But her dip in support as the first primaries were held seemed to damage her prospects in Minnesota as well. For his part, 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. He also campaigned in the state twice in recent months.
Minnesota also held a Republican presidential primary on Tuesday. Trump’s was the only name 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 generated much greater turnout.
At the Elliot Park voting site, North Central University roommates Abby Schmidt, 19, and Kyrie Ambrosia-Brown, 20, split: Schmidt went for Sanders, who she called a fighter, while Ambrosia-Brown went for Warren.
“I value someone who actually has a plan and a strategy to get things done,” Ambrosia-Brown said. “And I want to see a woman as president.”
Carissa Rodenbiker, who voted in Rochester, said she went for Warren because she wants a candidate who can unite the liberal and centrist wings of the Democratic Party. “I think she would have the best chance” of doing that, said Rodenbiker, 26.
Kate Bariss, 41, a hotel bartender in Minneapolis, said she decided to go for Biden even though she feels closer to Sanders politically.
“I’m obviously more concerned about the bigger goal, which is getting Trump the hell out of office,” Bariss said. “In the last couple of days, though, I went back and forth a lot, because I do like Bernie the best. And it’s sort of felt like everyone has been pumping Biden up. I guess I listened to them.”
Bariss said she even considered Bloomberg “only because he hates Trump so much.”
In Rochester, 33-year-old Brittany Mages went for Sanders because she thinks he “potentially will tackle all the things I care about. Health care is a big one for me.” Taylor Banh, 28, a nutrition scientist who voted near Loring Park in Minneapolis, said Sanders “represents the working class and marginalized groups more than anyone else.”
While Sanders supporters seemed more likely to cite issues, Biden voters went more for the electability argument.
“I want someone who, in the end, will beat Trump,” said Denise Yennie, 66, of Rochester, who went for Biden. In St. Paul, 62-year-old Perry Madsen had been planning to go for Klobuchar and was disappointed when she dropped out.
“She had no path,” Madsen said. Now he’s hoping Biden can unite the party. “Joe has the experience.”
Staff writers Torey Van Oot, Mary Lynn Smith, Katie Galioto, Liz Sawyer and Randy Furst, and University of Minnesota student Henry Erlandson, all contributed to this report.
Patrick Condon • 612-673-4413