Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Marco Rubio won Minnesota’s presidential caucuses Tuesday, as voters handed both a badly needed boost as they try to hold off the surging campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Heavy turnout marked both the DFL and GOP caucuses in Minnesota, on a Super Tuesday night that saw the presidential contest spread to wider swaths of the country. Hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans participated, and some caucusgoers met long lines, traffic backups and delays in obtaining ballots at voting sites.
In the Democratic contest, Sanders posted a convincing win over Clinton in a state that his campaign made a priority. Clinton’s last-minute visit to Minneapolis on Tuesday did little to shore up her prospects here, with the Vermont U.S. senator claiming a nearly 20-percentage point victory over Clinton.
“He’s really capturing what a lot of people think is wrong with the government,” said Jacob Meltzer, 21, who caucused for Sanders at Central High School in St. Paul. Sanders campaigned in Minnesota three times since last Friday, and on Tuesday night it was one of a small handful of states where he denied Clinton a win.
“Clearly the Sanders organization reached all corners of the state,” state DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin said. A Clinton supporter, Martin said Sanders’ team developed a better get-out-the-vote organization in the state.
Rubio also swung through Minnesota on Tuesday, for a rally in Andover that was his second visit in a week. Rubio’s focus on Minnesota gave the Florida senator his only Super Tuesday win, with Trump picking up the most states and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz winning Texas and Oklahoma.
Martin Gorman, a 23-year-old University of Minnesota student, waited in a long line to get into the GOP caucus at Anderson Hall on campus so he could caucus for Rubio. He called him a “unifying voice rather than tearing people apart.”
State GOP Chairman Keith Downey called Republican turnout in Minnesota “record-setting.” Rubio racked up big numbers in suburban areas, which has been an emphasis of his campaign. Rubio beat Cruz in Minnesota by less than 10 percentage points, with Trump in a strong third place, and Dr. Ben Carson and Ohio Gov. John Kasich trailing in the single digits.
“The North Star state provided a big ray of hope to Marco’s campaign tonight,” said former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is backing Rubio. But GOP political consultant Michael McKenna predicted that Minnesota isn’t enough.
“The bottom line is Rubio is done as a candidate,” said McKenna, calling Cruz the only Republican left with any chance against Trump.
Minnesota voted earlier than usual in this year’s presidential cycle, and won more attention from leading candidates in recent weeks and months.
Clinton campaigned in Minneapolis around lunchtime. She mingled with supporters and customers at Mapps Coffee near the University of Minnesota and then at the Midtown Global Market on Lake Street. At the coffee shop, with Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith in tow, Clinton urged supporters to caucus and touted her experience — saying she is “prepared to do all aspects of the job.”
“I’m going to be a president for everybody,” Clinton told a Somali-American woman who approached her to chat.
The former secretary of state, senator and first lady has been on a roll in recent contests, and on Tuesday she scored wins in Texas, Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Massachusetts and Arkansas. In addition to Minnesota, Sanders won Colorado, Oklahoma and his home state of Vermont.
Clinton supporters at Minnesota caucuses said she has earned her position as front-runner.
“She’s really known and she knows what she’s doing,” Muse Farah, caucusing at the Brian Coyle Community Center in Minneapolis, said through an interpreter. “And she’s been in the White House before.”
Outside Central High School in St. Paul before the caucus, Karen Minge, 73, hoisted a handmade sign that read: “Be A Part of Herstory. Vote for Hillary.” Minge, wife of former U.S. Rep. David Minge, said she’s been a Clinton supporter since 1992, the year she became first lady.
In his own Tuesday visit to Minnesota, Rubio — who has urgently been trying to chip away at Trump’s momentum — kept up his increasingly harsh critique of the Republican front-runner before the Andover crowd.
“What you have is a world-class con artist and sham who is preying on people’s fears and people’s anger to get people’s vote,” Rubio said to cheers and hoots. “The consequences are the presidency of the United States, the future of the conservative movement, the identity of the party of Lincoln and Reagan and ultimately the future of America.”
Rubio also compared Trump to former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, calling them both embarrassments. Former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal warmed up the crowd and introduced Rubio, who had backing from a large share of the state’s most prominent current and former elected GOP officials.
Cruz, who campaigned in St. Paul in December, cultivated a network of support in Minnesota, too. Besides Texas, he also won in Arkansas on Tuesday, which could give him a foothold to stay in the race. Cruz’s Minnesota organizer, Brandon Lerch, noted that Cruz’s second-place showing in Minnesota would still help the Texas senator’s efforts to displace Trump. “This is about a delegate race,” Lerch said.
Trump claimed wins in Arkansas, Georgia, Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee and Massachusetts. Trump’s campaign engaged in Minnesota much later, but picked up support as he gathered steam nationally.
At Black Hawk Middle School in Eagan, Tim Kemp came out to caucus for Trump. He said he’s angry about the national debt and border security, and ready for a political outsider to take over as president.
“I think people whatever side they’re on, realize this is a crucial point we’re at right now,” said Dave Dirkers, a 32-year-old salesman who caucused for Trump at Anderson Hall. “Everyone’s becoming a little more active, which is a good thing.”
Minnesota’s Republican contest was on track to be the only one nationwide where Trump did not finish first or second. A number of caucusgoers indicated they were motivated by an anyone-but-Trump mentality.
“Obviously the huge numbers tonight were anti-Trump numbers,” said Joan Bohlig, who went for Kasich. She felt Rubio lacks governing experience, but “he might be electable,” she said.
Rubio won a lopsided victory in Eagan’s heavily suburban Senate District 51, claiming 947 votes to 491 for Cruz and 356 for Trump. It was one of many caucus sites that exceeded organizers’ expectations for turnout.
“It was crazy tonight,” said Pamela Faye, a newly elected precinct chair in the area. “Nobody was expecting these numbers.”
Numerous caucus sites generated reports of heavy turnout, in a state with a long history of high voter participation. Cars were lined up outside Roseville High School and Stillwater High School. Lines of voters wrapped outside the doors of Anderson Hall, where the crowd had to be divided into two rooms. At Black Hawk School, voting was supposed to start by 7 p.m. but didn’t get going until after 7:30 p.m.
Martin reported heavy turnout at outstate caucus sites including in Mankato, Moorhead, St. Cloud and elsewhere. There were scattered reports of ballot shortages in some DFL precincts, including in Minneapolis.
Gail Seifert came to Anderson Hall to caucus for Cruz, saying she believes he’d do what he promised as president. At 81, Seifert was caucusing for the first time.
“I have to say I did the best I could,” Seifert said. “I’m thinking about the future for my grandkids.”