Voters in suburban communities and large swaths of greater Minnesota delivered former Vice President Joe Biden a clear win in the state Tuesday, with nearly three times as many people participating in Tuesday’s presidential primary than past caucuses.
Biden headed into the night buoyed by energy from endorsements — including Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s — and a critical South Carolina victory. Despite spending minimal resources to rev up supporters in Minnesota, Biden was able to bring together a coalition of backers from some of the state’s densest urban areas as well as many of its most rural communities.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, however, was the favorite of voters living in the core of major cities, carrying Minneapolis and St. Paul. He had won the 2016 caucuses in Minnesota, and many predicted that significant support would carry over this year.
But the state’s switch from a caucus to a primary process brought in a wider range of voters, and Biden was able to overwhelmingly appeal to those who turned out in suburban and exurban communities. Election precinct results show his popularity extended into much of southeastern and west-central Minnesota and the Iron Range — and across the nation, as he rocketed ahead in the delegate count after trailing Sanders.
For many supporters, like Chris Hart of Minneapolis, electability was top of mind when they marked Biden’s name on the ballot.
“I just wanted someone who will beat Trump,” Hart said. He described Klobuchar’s endorsement speech for Biden as “really moving” and said it helped sway his vote.
He was planning to support the Minnesota senator, and her departure from the race left him deeply uncertain about who would be his second choice. He and his partner sat in the parking lot of their south Minneapolis polling place for 20 minutes Tuesday afternoon running through the options — they considered former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, or no one. The retired software engineer ultimately chose Biden, believing him the best bet against President Donald Trump.
On election night, Corey Day, senior adviser to the Biden campaign in Minnesota, stressed the importance of Klobuchar’s endorsement and thanked her campaign for making calls and sending e-mails urging her supporters to back Biden.
“In the last 24 hours we have seen a great windfall of support,” Day said.
The endorsements from Klobuchar and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg were just part of a “convergence of signals” that prompted voters here to turn to Biden, said University of Minnesota political science professor Paul Goren. The South Carolina win was another signal, he said.
“I also think it was a lot of Democratic constituencies recognizing that the time to get off the fence and make a decision is now. … Do we want to go with the progressive candidate in Sanders or the moderate candidate, the more likable candidate, in Biden? And I think a lot of people read these signs and decided we want someone who is going to be electable,” Goren said.
Some voters, including Hart, were concerned that by choosing Biden they had picked a candidate who would fail to excite younger voters. However, Sanders acknowledged at a news conference Wednesday that his campaign hasn’t been as successful at turning out young voters as he had hoped, another factor that benefited Biden.
The former vice president performed best among the Democratic candidates in Minnesota counties where Trump did well in 2016. He also did better in counties with more older residents and those with higher median incomes, a Star Tribune analysis of vote totals and U.S. Census data shows.
In the state’s five most affluent counties, on average nearly 46% of people picked Biden while about 26% chose Sanders. Biden also did well in wealthy neighborhoods in southwest Minneapolis and Highland Park in St. Paul.
Biden’s success in states like Minnesota and Massachusetts shocked a lot of people, Goren said.
“He’s got momentum on his side, and I think that bodes well moving forward,” he said. But he added a warning: “It’s possible a gaffe or a misstatement on his part could harm his candidacy down the line.”
Staff writer Randy Furst contributed to this report.
Jessie Van Berkel • 651-925-5044