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Unexpected Biden Minnesota victory signals strength in white Midwest

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Via Financial Times

Joe Biden has notched up big victories in southern states with support from black voters, but his surprise success in Minnesota suggests he can also win over the working-class whites in the Midwest that he needs to clinch the Democratic nomination.

The victory in Minnesota on Tuesday by Mr Biden, a moderate Democrat, was a particularly dramatic reversal given that his more progressive rival Bernie Sanders won the state overwhelmingly in 2016, beating Hillary Clinton by 62 per cent to 38 per cent.

Just a week ago, Mr Biden was running fourth in Minnesota, polling in the single digits. But he came from behind on Tuesday to claim 38.6 per cent of the vote to Mr Sanders’ 29.9 per cent, winning 38 delegates to Mr Sanders’s 26. 

Political analysts see parallels with the next big Midwest presidential primary in Michigan on Tuesday. Democrats will also head to the polls next week in Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri and Washington.

“Michigan was a huge victory for Bernie Sanders in 2016 and bolstered his argument that he could win rural and working-class white voters in the Midwest,” said Susan Demas, a former Democratic campaign consultant and editor of Michigan Advance, a political publication. “Given Joe Biden’s shocking win in Minnesota last night and new polling in Michigan, however, it looks like the former vice-president is currently well-positioned in our primary next week. 

“A Biden victory in Michigan would likely be a powerful signal to Democrats who may still have doubts about him,” she added. “Michigan likely won’t be the definitive state in the delegate race, but it does play an outsized psychological role, since Trump managed to flip it four years ago with just a 10,704-vote margin.”

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Mr Sanders announced on Wednesday morning that his campaign was adding rallies in two Michigan cities — Detroit and Grand Rapids — to the schedule ahead of next week’s primary.

A Detroit News poll published late on Tuesday gave Mr Biden a 7 per cent lead over Mr Sanders in Michigan. The poll was conducted in the week before Super Tuesday, including the period when Mr Biden was surging after a big victory in South Carolina. On Wednesday, Mr Biden was endorsed by Jennifer Granholm, the state’s former governor.

Chart showing how the Super Tuesday primaries boosted Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden's delegate counts, turning the race for the Democrat nomination into a two-horse race

In a victory speech on election night, Mr Biden credited Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar for his victory in her home state, which has a population of 5.6m people and is 84 per cent white. Ms Klobuchar ended her own Democratic presidential campaign a day before the vote and endorsed Mr Biden instead.

Mr Biden also received endorsements from former Democratic presidential contenders Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke on Monday night, and on Wednesday morning, Michael Bloomberg threw his support behind the former vice-president.

“I think Amy’s endorsement did have an impact, but the main theme in Minnesota was electability,” said Larry Jacobs, Director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota. “I don’t see a lot of love here for Biden, it’s just a very practical, sorting through of options kind of support. There is a coalescing of a majority of Democratic voters, as the candidate most likely to beat Donald Trump”. 

“And there is a class element to this, among those who have not attended college Bernie is the furthest behind,” Mr Jacobs added.

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Exit polls in Minnesota showed strong working-class support for Mr Biden. A CNN poll showed support for Mr Biden among white Minnesota voters at 42 per cent against 27 per cent for Mr Sanders, while voters without any college education voted for Mr Biden at a rate of 54 per cent against 26 per cent for Mr Sanders. 

A similar theme played out in Massachusetts, the home state of presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. Exit polls in that state — where Mr Biden beat out both Mr Sanders and Ms Warren — showed strong support among the working class for the former vice-president.

Mr Biden secured the backing of 44 per cent of white women without a college degree, and 39 per cent of white men who did not graduate from college. He also won a plurality of support from white men with degrees, though was edged out by Ms Warren among college-educated women, according to the CNN poll.

In Texas, a more diverse state, Mr Biden was likely boosted by the endorsement of Mr O’Rourke, who has a following among Democrats there after he narrowly lost a race for the US Senate seat in 2018. Exit polls showed the former vice-president was also able to assemble a coalition of white and non-white voters in the Lone Star State.

As in the South, Mr Biden handily won over black voters in Texas, with 58 per cent of the vote, according to CNN. While Mr Sanders showed his strength with younger white and Latino voters, Mr Biden picked up the most support of white and Latino Democrats in Texas aged 45 and older.

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To be sure, Mr Biden fared poorly in two overwhelmingly white states that voted before Super Tuesday, Iowa and New Hampshire. In those races, however, he divided moderate Democratic support with several other centrist candidates, like Mr Buttigieg and Ms Klobuchar, before they pulled out of the race.

One of the more surprising dimensions of Mr Biden’s triumph on Tuesday was the relative size of his campaign in many of the states where he won. The former vice-president had not campaigned in Minnesota this cycle, and did not employ any staffers there. The same was true in Massachusetts.

In a working class suburb of Rochester, Minnesota, one millennial voter who gave her name as Monica, said she decided to vote for Mr Biden, despite backing Mr Sanders in 2016.

“I think we need to lean in to Biden, Bernie is just too drastic and I don’t think he can beat Trump,” she said. “After South Carolina, I decided I was ready to vote for Biden. I feel like he can maybe beat Trump after all.”

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