Klobuchar, Sanders sprint to finish in Minnesota

Democratic presidential candidates
Democratic presidential candidates (from left) Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Amy Klobuchar participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate on Feb, 7, 2020 at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images file

Minnesota’s shift to a Super Tuesday primary has the state’s voters in demand as the presidential campaigns of Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders vie for a top finish, while several other campaigns look to peel off some Democratic delegates as a consolation.

President Trump is assured a victory as the only named candidate on the Republican ballot.

But no candidate had locked down the Democratic race, even with Minnesota-born and three-term Sen. Klobuchar on the ballot.

Klobuchar, who has represented Minnesota in the Senate since 2007, had a modest 29 percent to 23 percent lead here in a recent MPR News/Star Tribune poll over Sanders, the Vermont senator who won Minnesota’s DFL caucuses four years ago and has become the national front-runner. But 21 percent of voters were undecided, leaving the outcome of Tuesday’s primary up for grabs.

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Amy Klobuchar leads among Minnesota Democrats in the presidential primary.

Both sides are pouring resources into Minnesota in the final days before Tuesday’s primary, which will allocate 75 pledged delegates for the Democratic National Convention that will choose the party’s nominee this summer.

Sanders chose Minnesota to host his final campaign rally before 14 states vote in “Super Tuesday” primaries, a sign of the importance his campaign puts on Minnesota’s race despite primaries the same day in bigger states such as California and Texas.

Klobuchar, meanwhile, will swing back to Minnesota for a rally on Sunday night in St. Louis Park, and will also be in her home state for what her campaign is billing a “victory party” on election night.

Both candidates are also running TV advertising trying to sway Minnesotans.

“It's tough coming into one of your rivals' home state,” said Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a prominent supporter of Sanders. “Amy's very popular… But I think he'll perform very well, and probably exceed expectations.”

Justin Buoen, Klobuchar’s campaign manager, said the Minnesota senator is “going to run an aggressive campaign everywhere in the country, including her home state.”

“We're confident that we're going to do well here in Minnesota, but we're not taking anything for granted,” Buoen said. “That's why Amy's coming here Sunday, and that's why we're airing ads.”

Other campaigns push for delegates

Meanwhile, other Democrats on the ballot aren’t writing the state off altogether, even if their hopes of outright winning seem slim. That’s because the Democratic primary allocates delegates proportionally among all candidates who get at least 15 percent of the vote statewide, or in any of the state’s eight congressional districts.

A strong third- or fourth-place finish from candidates such as Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg or former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg could net them delegates to the Democratic National Convention that will choose the party’s nominee this summer.

Warren, Bloomberg and Buttigieg are all putting resources into Minnesota despite trailing in the polls here.

State Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, is a supporter of Pete Buttigieg, who isn’t planning a Minnesota campaign stop this weekend but who is advertising on Twin Cities TV stations.

“I think it's an important state for him,” Hansen said of Buttigieg. “He's got to hit those 15 percent marks, and that's our focus, to make sure we're viable here.”

Warren isn’t planning on visiting Minnesota this weekend, either, but a group supporting her is running advertisements, and actress Ashley Judd is visiting the state to host several pro-Warren events.

“I think there's been a strong surge in the [Warren] campaign that we'll see reflected in the results on Super Tuesday,” said Warren supporter Erin Maye Quade, a former state lawmaker.

Most votes not yet cast

The final sprint for votes makes sense for candidates because most Minnesotans are waiting until Super Tuesday to cast their votes.

Early voting began six weeks ago, but through Friday, only around 57,000 Democrats had cast absentee ballots in the 2020 primary. Another 24,000 had requested absentee ballots but not yet returned them, according to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office.

This year is the first time in decades that Minnesota has held a presidential primary, but early voting figures so far are far below total turnout in comparable recent elections.

A chart on early voting

In 2016, for example, 207,000 Democrats turned up to participate in Minnesota’s party caucuses, which Sanders won over eventual nominee Hillary Clinton. Early voting this year is just over a quarter of that 2016 total. Caucuses put a higher burden on participants than voting in a primary does, and so total 2020 turnout is expected to far exceed 2016’s caucuses.

Two years ago, Democrats voted in an August primary to choose their party’s nominees for governor and other statewide offices. The governor’s race, lower-profile than the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign, drew 583,000 Democratic voters. This year’s early voting is just 10 percent of the 2018 primary.

A chart showing early voting as a share of past elections.

Besides Sanders and Klobuchar, the Democratic primary ballot features 13 other candidates and an option for “Uncommitted.” That includes some candidates who have dropped out of the race since qualifying for Minnesota’s ballot, such as New Jersey U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

Active candidates listed on Minnesota’s ballot are:

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden

  • Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg

  • Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg

  • Hawaii U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

  • Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar

  • Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders

  • Businessman and activist Tom Steyer

  • Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren

The Republican primary ballot lists President Trump and a write-in option.

Visit mnvotes.org to learn more about voting in the 2020 primary.