AUGUSTA, Maine — Former Vice President Joe Biden won Maine’s Democratic presidential primary on Tuesday in a narrow, but stunning upset over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in a state in which Biden ran no ads and had next to no campaign infrastructure.
Biden led with 34.3 percent of votes in Maine to Sanders’ 33.1 percent as he asserted himself as the new frontrunner on Super Tuesday with nearly 88 percent of municipalities reporting to the Bangor Daily News. The BDN and its national election results partner, Decision Desk HQ, called the race for Biden on Wednesday at 9 a.m.
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Candidates must reach 15 percent in Maine or one of its congressional districts to win any delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Biden, Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren are expected to win at least 10, nine and two delegates, respectively, in Maine, which was among the 14 states voting on Super Tuesday in the Democratic nominating race to face President Donald Trump.
It was a surprising result for Biden, who won Texas and Massachusetts to cement front-runner status nationally. Sanders won California, the state carrying the most delegates. Biden ran no campaign in Maine and Massachusetts while Sanders and Warren organized here for months.
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Portland City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, one of only a few public officials in Maine to endorse Biden, said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the former vice president’s performance in Maine, adding that the results showed that voters found his message impactful.
“We’re going to bring together all Americans,” Biden told reporters in Los Angeles on Wednesday. “We showed that last night.”
The result on Tuesday was a sharp reversal from a Colby College survey released in mid-February in which Biden polled at just 12 percent, trailing Sanders, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The primary was roiled over a three-day period from Saturday to Monday after Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and billionaire activist Tom Steyer all dropped out of the race. Buttigieg and Klobuchar endorsed Biden. Some of their prominent Maine supporters followed them, including State Treasurer Henry Beck, who originally backed Buttigieg.
Sanders, who won the Maine caucuses handily over Hillary Clinton in 2016, was seen until Election Day as the likely frontrunner in the state this time as he led in fundraising from Mainers. He also had organizing infrastructure in the state leftover from his previous campaign.
Sanders is likely to receive nearly as many delegates from Maine as Biden. But the result is still a significant symbolic victory for the former vice president, who won similar races in Massachusetts and Texas on Tuesday. Warren had 15.9 percent of the vote early Wednesday and will likely finish with a share of delegates.
At a watch party at Sanders’ Portland office on Tuesday night, campaign staff and volunteers mixed excitement and disappointment, cheering victories in California, Colorado and Vermont while pointing to a need to organize for progressive candidates and causes in the state.
Benjamin Collings, Sanders’ state director, downplayed expectations Tuesday night, noting that the Vermont senator was not always considered a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. He added that the “movement” Sanders’ had created was bigger than candidate himself, pointing to the recent popularity of ideas like a $15 minimum wage.
“He’s completely changed the Democratic Party,” Collings said.
Bloomberg finished below the delegate threshold at 11.8 percent statewide. He won no states on Tuesday despite $400 million of his own money into TV ad spending, including more than $2 million in Maine, according to FiveThirtyEight. Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the only other active candidate on the ballot, won less than 1 percent.
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Candidates who left the race combined for 4.2 percent of votes. Buttigieg had been expected to win some delegates here and still came away with 2.1 percent of votes alone. It was likely a result of many of the 22,000 voters who submitted absentee ballots through last week. The late re-allocation of Buttigieg and Klobuchar voters likely helped Biden.
The former vice president has not visited the state since a book tour in early 2018. Diane Sherwood, a Biden voter from Fort Fairfield, said at the polls that she saw Sanders as “a screamer,” and she wanted some “a little bit more balanced.”
“For me, the main thing is to beat the existing president and get him out of office,” Sherwood said. “I think Joe is the one who can do it.”
BDN writers Michael Shepherd and David Marino Jr. contributed to this report.