Bernie Sanders takes Colorado

Biden, riding a late surge, overtook Bloomberg to finish second in the state's Super Tuesday primary

Voters in Boulder cast their primary ballots on March 2, 2020. (Photo by John Herrick)
(Photo by John Herrick)

Pollsters long have said Super Tuesday was Bernie Sanders’ to lose in a state where he trounced Hillary Clinton four years ago. They were proved right as the Vermont senator led this year’s Democratic pack with 36% of the vote.

Within moments of polls closing, the AP called the race for Sanders. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg held on to second spot for most of the evening, but was overtaken by Joe Biden. Unofficial results posted just after midnight had Biden at 23% of the vote, Bloomberg with 21%, Elizabeth Warren with 17% and Tulsi Gabbard with 1%. On Wednesday morning, Bloomberg suspended his campaign and endorsed Biden.

“I will go ape-shit if he wins,” Rachel Wiggins, a 33-year-old graduate student from Denver, said of Sanders before the race was called. She said Sanders’ supporters like her felt “screwed over” by the 2016 election and would turn out in big numbers to show their continued support this year.

Howard Chou, the vice chair of the Colorado Democratic Party, said Sanders’ win in Colorado “can only be a good thing” because the impulse to force people to coalesce around one candidate is flawed. Let the people decide, Chou added. The more people involved, the better:

“I feel Bernie brings out people who aren’t active in politics and for him to activate so many people who may have been on the sidelines is great for our democracy.”

Colorado is one of 14 states that held presidential primary elections Super Tuesday. The latest results show Sanders also took Vermont, Utah, and the big prize of California. But Biden swept the South, took Minnesota and Massachusetts, the respective home states of former moderate rival Sen. Amy Klobuchar and progressive rival Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Biden also snagged the evening’s other big prize: Texas.

This election marks a return — after two decades of caucusing — to the statewide primary process for selecting a nominee. It’s the first time that Colorado’s nearly 3.5 million active voters are using mail-in ballots for a presidential primary and the first presidential primary in which Coloradans registered as unaffiliated were able to choose between a Democratic or Republican party ballot.

It is also the election, many voters told The Independent, in which they feel more is at stake than ever before. As of 3 p.m., Democratic (and unaffiliateds voting Democrat) voter turnout had surpassed 2016 Democratic caucus turnout more than six-fold, according to data from the Secretary of State’s office. The office also reported that as of early Wednesday morning 1.55 million ballots had been counted, a turnout of about 40% of registered voters so far.

“For me personally, it feels like probably the most important election I’ve experienced in my lifetime,” said Dan Nikkel, casting his ballot for Biden this afternoon at Front Range Community College Longs Peak student center in Fort Collins. “I don’t think we can afford another four years of Trump. Not on the environment, not on foreign policy — he’s alienating other countries — and everything he says is a lie. If the coronavirus gets out of hand, can anyone trust what he says?”

Shawne Almgren, who also went for Biden in Fort Collins today, started voting in 2000, the year the Supreme Court’s Bush. v. Gore decision settled the notorious recount dispute five weeks after ballots were cast. What is at stake this year, he said, is unprecedented:

“I think Trump is slowly dismantling all of our democratic institutions.”

Colorado’s mail ballots were already out of date when they started arriving the second week of February. By that time, Cory Booker, Andrew Yang, Michael Bennet, Julian Castro and Marianne Williamson had dropped out of the race. Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer folded their campaigns after poor showings in South Carolina’s primary Saturday. 

Just under one-third, or 1,357 Democratic delegates, are up for grabs tonight. Colorado will send 67 pledged delegates and 13 unpledged “automatic delegates” to the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee in July. Of the pledged delegates, 23 will be determined by the popular vote and 44 assigned by congressional districts. A candidate must win at least 15 percent support in each category to qualify for delegates. And the Democratic nomination will take at least 1,991 delegates to win.

Many Coloradans kept those counts in mind while casting their votes, forgoing their presidential picks in favor of candidates they or pundits have handicapped as more likely to snag the Democratic nomination and ultimately oust President Donald Trump. Winnability trumps ideology in the age of Trump, they told The Independent. According to exit polling data in The Washington Post, nearly 70% cast their votes based on whether they thought their candidate could beat Donald Trump rather than whether he or she agreed with them on the issues. 

Other Coloradans voted their hearts, regardless of whether their candidate of choice seems unlikely to become the nominee. 

 “I think we should have a woman president. I think the men have totally fucked it up,” Athena West, 56, said after casting her ballot for Warren in Boulder Monday afternoon. 

“I’m tired of old white men.”

The ages of the Democrats’ four septuagenarian candidates are cause for disappointment among many Colorado voters, both young and old, who worry the party’s nominee won’t withstand the demands of the campaign trail or will die in office. 

“The fact that you’re hearing that today is very disheartening,” AARP Colorado spokeswoman Angela Cortez responded. “Employers benefit greatly from experiences, and workplaces benefit from a multi-generational workforce. The White House is no different.”

Terrance Hughes, pastor at New Covenant Christian Church / Alpha Omega Ministries in Denver and past president of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance, voted for Sanders because of what he described as a youthful willingness to shake up the economic, health care and criminal justice systems. 

“Too many younger black voters have become disenchanted with how things have operated for way too long,” said Hughes, a Democratic running for the state House District 7 seat being vacated by Rep. James Coleman. “We need a president focused on taking care of the people.”

Voters watch the results of the Democratic primary at a watch party at Stoney's Bar in Denver on March 3, 2020. Bernie Sanders won with Michael Bloomberg and Joe Biden rounding out the top three. (Photo by Forest Wilson)
Voters watch the results of the Democratic primary at a watch party at Stoney’s Bar in Denver on March 3, 2020. Bernie Sanders won with Michael Bloomberg and Joe Biden rounding out the top three. (Photo by Forest Wilson)

Sanders, the U.S. senator from Vermont who identifies as a Democratic Socialist, has grown a grassroots machine in Colorado since his strong showing here in 2016. Bernie volunteers have knocked on tens of thousands of doors throughout the state over the past week. And nowhere was Sanders’ support more evident than in the Colorado Convention Center Feb. 16 when more than 11,000 showed up to see the candidate and legions of volunteers with clipboards flanked the hallways. 

Warren had a loyal and well-organized operation in Colorado, and packed the Fillmore Auditorium Feb. 23. Biden largely ignored Colorado, airing no ads and making no appearances here in the lead-up to Super Tuesday. With his strong showing in South Carolina, dozens of Democratic party establishment leaders coalesced around him.

Catie Sitcoff, a 46-year-old school nurse in Englewood, bet on Biden’s new momentum. 

“I’m sad that it’s another old white guy [Biden], but right now we have to beat Trump,” she said. “And I think maybe an old white guy to beat an old white guy is the best thing.”

Bloomberg threw money at Colorado as he has nationally. He hired his first staff member on Dec. 9 and then – at compensation rates higher than most campaigns – hired more than 60 others in nine offices that opened feverishly throughout the state. Colorado voters have, over the past few weeks, reported receiving as many as five mailers a day from his campaign, plus phone calls and text messages.

The Republican primary was decidedly less dramatic, with the president facing five relatively unknown challengers. First-time voter Connor Salem proudly cast his ballot for an incumbent who embraces his views. 

“I’m pro-life and I never will vote for someone who would support abortion,” said Salem who also likes Trump’s economic and foreign policy and the belief that “what America should do as far as taking care of us first instead of other people first.”

The primary comes less than a week before Democrats caucus to determine whether some candidates proceed to the next step in the race for U.S. Senator Cory Gardner’s seat. Candidates can either caucus or gather signatures to get their names on the June 30 primary ballot. 

Former Gov. John Hickenlooper is the front-runner in terms of fundraising and name recognition. Some political strategists are not too concerned if he is running with Sanders at the top of the ticket. Hickenlooper has his own brand as the quirky former Colorado governor, said Laura Chapin, a Democratic strategist. And besides, she said, the 2020 election will be a referendum on Trump and his backers like Gardner, who defended him during the impeachment hearings and confirmed his conservative picks to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could overturn Roe v. Wade

Even so, Sanders and Hickenlooper represent two opposite sides of the Democratic Party. Sanders backs a Green New Deal and Medicare for All, programs that Hickenlooper dubbed as socialism during his short run for president. And so far, Sanders has said he won’t endorse a candidate for Colorado’s Senate seat. 

This worries Portia Prescott, a Democratic political strategist and consultant who’s supporting Biden. Sanders, she said, has to unite the party or enthusiasm will drop, resulting in lower Democratic turnout. 

“We can’t have a repeat of what happened in 2016.”

Susan Greene, John Herrick, Forest Wilson and Tina Griego contributed to this report.

The Colorado Independent is a statewide online news source operating in a time when spin is plentiful, but factual, fair and unflinching news in the public interest is all too rare. Our award-winning team of veteran investigative and explanatory reporters and news columnists aims to amplify the voices of Coloradans whose stories are unheard, shine light on the relationships between people, power and policy, and hold public officials to account. We strive to report the news with context, social conscience, and soul, and to give Coloradans the insight they need to promote conversation, understanding and progress in this square, swing state we call home.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Yep….Bernie won Colorado, but not like before….I know that many from my area voted for Joe…I know that Colorado has been a bernie outpost for a while…but he has shown me he cannot be the leader of our party…I DO NOT WANT ANY MORE CHAOS…I don’t want a revolution, I don’t want more confusion…that is what Bernie is selling….we need to remove trump…and Moscow Mitch….and Bernie won’t do it….

  2. Obviously, we need a way for people to vote that doesn’t freeze them to a candidate who drops out or suspends a campaign after printing. How many people voted for candidates who, by Super Tuesday, were no longer active?

    Ranked choice might work if enough people ranked all or nearly all of the candidates. A ballot receipt allowing people to show up at a voting center, cancel their first vote, and cast a new ballot would also work.

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