Former Vice President Joe Biden and progressive firebrand Bernie Sanders were in a dead heat early Wednesday morning in Maine’s first Democratic presidential primary in two decades, based on partial returns.

With 78 percent of precincts’ results in at 1:20 a.m. Wednesday, Biden led Sanders, 35 percent to 34 percent, a difference of 1,346 votes in a race that drew heavy Democratic turnout statewide. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren trailed in third place with 16 percent, followed by former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg at 12 percent, according to preliminary results.

President Trump was uncontested in Maine’s Republican presidential primary.

Results from several larger towns or cities had yet to arrive as of midnight, meaning the dynamic of the race could still shift in either direction. But the close Democratic primary in Maine – a state Sanders handily won in 2016 – was illustrative of the battle developing nationwide between the progressive Vermont senator and the more moderate former vice president.

Benjamin Collings, a state representative from Portland and state director of the Sanders campaign, said he expected a long night but was proud of how hard volunteers worked. He also dismissed any talk of a disappointing showing in Maine despite Sanders’ large margin four years ago and the fact that Biden didn’t organize much in the state.

“Overall, I think we’re very pleased in Maine, as well as across the country,” Collings said. “When I started in September, we weren’t a front-runner and some people didn’t know if we’d make it this far or get many delegates.”


Biden supporter and Portland City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, meanwhile, was “pleasantly surprised” but elated at the closeness of the race. Thibodeau said he campaigned for Biden after seeing the former vice president’s connection with the American people and believes he is “the best person to take on Donald Trump in November.”

“What a Super Tuesday for Joe Biden,” Thibodeau said just after midnight. While the final results for Maine may not be in, Thibodeau said it was clear after Tuesday that “there was a shift in South Carolina, and that started a wave across the country.”

Many polling locations saw heavier than anticipated turnout as Mainers participated in the 14-state Super Tuesday presidential contest and cast ballots in a high-profile ballot question on childhood vaccinations.

Participation was so intense for Maine’s first presidential primary in 20 years that some locations, such as Portland, experienced long lines of people waiting to register to vote or to join a political party so they could cast ballots in the presidential primaries. Some polling locations had to photocopy blank voter ballots because they had run out of official ballots, which could delay returns because those results cannot be fed into optical scanning machines.

“We try to plan, but you never really know what the turnout will be,” Kristen Muszynski, spokeswoman for the Maine Secretary of State’s Office, said Tuesday.

Democratic officials were pleased with the high participation in the party primary.


“This turnout today is telling me that most people want Donald Trump to be a one-term president,” Kathleen Marra, chairwoman of the Maine Democratic Party, said in Portland just before polls closed.

There are 24 delegates up for grabs in Maine, which accounts for just 2 percent of the 1,357 delegates at stake during the most consequential single day of the 2020 presidential primary season. Not surprisingly, large states such as California, Texas, North Carolina and Virginia received most of the candidates’ attention.

But participating in Super Tuesday guaranteed Maine voters would have a say in the outcome of the Democratic primary before a nominee was selected. Maine lawmakers voted last year to switch to a primary from the more complicated and time-consuming town meeting-style caucus system.

At Portland City Hall, Skye St. James was waiting in line Tuesday evening to register as a Democrat and planned to cast his ballot for Sanders.

“He has the best policies and I believe in Medicare for all,” St. James said. “Bernie has the best chance of all the candidates to beat Trump.”

But Tessa Kosmides, a registered Democrat also in line so that she could update her address, said she planned to vote for Warren, who is Sanders’ top rival for support from the progressive wing of the Democratic party.


Just five of the 12 Democrats whose names appeared on Maine’s ballot were still in the race as of Tuesday. The field had narrowed sharply after Biden’s landslide victory in the South Carolina primary on Saturday.

Sanders entered Maine’s primary as the presumed leader both because of the Vermont senator’s still-strong following among progressives here and his commanding, 64 percent victory over Hillary Clinton during the state’s 2016 caucuses. Sanders and Bloomberg also appeared to have the most extensive campaign operations in Maine.

On Tuesday night, Sanders supporters gathered in the fourth floor of an office building off Commercial Street in Portland to watch as results trickled in. It was a low-key affair, with store-bought juice and cookies, chips and salsa, Chex mix and folding chairs.

As results came in, both from Maine and other states, the crowd sometimes cheered, sometimes booed as they watched the developing Super Tuesday showdown between their candidate and Biden.

But Super Tuesday made clear that the trajectory of the race had shifted following Biden’s landslide victory in South Carolina on Saturday and the withdrawal of fellow moderates Pete Buttigieg of Indiana and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesotat. Both Buttigieg and Klobuchar subsequently endorsed the former vice president.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg was trailing far behind the two as well as Warren despite advertising heavily in Maine for months, making two campaign stops in the Portland area in January and a paid staff of 20 people.


There was limited independent polling of Maine voters headed into Tuesday’s election.

A recent Colby College poll of roughly 350 Maine Democrats had Sanders in the lead at 25 percent support followed by Buttigieg (16 percent), Bloomberg (14 percent), Biden (12 percent), Warren (9 percent), Klobuchar (4 percent), Gabbard (3 percent) and Tom Steyer (2 percent).

Westbrook residents Danielle and Emma Estevez, both 26, both supported Sanders during the 2016 campaign but said they entered the 2020 primary season with open minds toward other candidates. In the end, however, both cast their ballots for the Vermont senator after researching the other contenders’ positions on issues.

“We just like his policies better,” Emma Estevez said Tuesday evening.

There’s a possibility that candidates who dropped out before Tuesday may still end up receiving a few of Maine’s 24 delegates. But to do so, they would need to win at least 15 percent of the votes.

Sixteen of the 24 delegates will be allocated proportionately to candidates who hit that 15 percent threshold in each of Maine’s two congressional districts with nine delegates up for grabs in the 1st District and seven from the 2nd District. Those will be awarded to qualifying candidates regardless of whether they are still in the race.


The remaining eight delegates will be allocated proportionately based on statewide vote totals to candidates who receive at least 15 percent support. Unlike delegates in with the congressional districts, however, the statewide delegates will only be awarded to candidates still in the race. Any delegates that would have gone to a withdrawn candidate will be re-distributed to the active candidates, again based on the proportional results, according to guidelines provided by the Maine Democratic Party.

Staff Writer Eric Russell contributed to this story.



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