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Maine too close to call as Sanders, Biden duel

March 4, 2020 GMT
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Louise Wilcox checks her ballots after coming out of a booth while voting in the primary election, Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Mechanic Falls, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
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Louise Wilcox checks her ballots after coming out of a booth while voting in the primary election, Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Mechanic Falls, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The Democratic presidential primary in Maine was too early to call as former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders battled for a state on the senator’s northern New England home turf.

With roughly 75% of precincts reporting early Wednesday morning, Biden had a lead over Sanders of about 1,300 votes out of more than 180,000 counted. That is a margin of less than 1 percentage point.

Maine’s primary presents a chance for Sanders to build on his lead from early contests. Sanders also has a chance to win Maine’s preliminary contest for a second straight cycle, though last time around the state was using the caucus system.

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Biden has a chance to score a win in a state where the senator is very popular, often drawing large crowds to rallies.

Maine’s primary apportions 24 delegates, a relatively small number, but the importance of winning the state can’t be overlooked, University of Maine political science professor Mark Brewer said.

“It’s a small number of delegates, but it matters. All delegates matter. Especially when you’ve got a race that is multi-headed,” Brewer said. “It also matters because you want to be able to say how many states you won on Super Tuesday.”

Sanders scored a particularly convincing win in the Feb. 22 Nevada caucus, allowing him to establish a slim lead in delegates. But Biden scored a huge victory in South Carolina and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren also picked up delegates in early contests.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made waves by qualifying for debates despite not appearing on the ballot in the earliest states. He was on the ballot in Maine, where he has had more of a campaign presence than the other Democrats in recent weeks.

Maine was one of 14 states holding its Democratic primary on Super Tuesday, a day that was expected to bring clarity to a crowded field of candidates. The state last used primaries in 1996 and 2000 and then switched to the caucus system for the next four presidential election cycles.

The return to primaries, made through a legislative change, meant turnout was much higher than previous contests.

Sanders won Maine’s Democratic caucus over eventual nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016. The state did not hold its caucus until a few days after Super Tuesday that year. The winner of the Republican caucus that year was Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.