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Biden squeezes by Sanders in Maine, extends sweep of wins

March 4, 2020 GMT
Joe Cormier votes in the primary election, Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Freeport, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
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Joe Cormier votes in the primary election, Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Freeport, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
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Joe Cormier votes in the primary election, Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Freeport, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A larger-than-expected turnout heralded the shift from town-by-town presidential caucuses to a statewide primary in Maine, where Joe Biden extended his wave of Super Tuesday success with a narrow victory.

Biden’s success stunned supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who had spoken to packed crowds at rallies in the state and easily won the Maine caucus in 2016. The switch to primaries led to more enthusiasm from voters, especially those frustrated by crowded, disorganized caucuses in the past.

The former vice president was declared the winner of his 10th Super Tuesday state by Wednesday afternoon. He scored a win on Sanders’ turf of northern New England, where the former vice president didn’t campaign but won support from some prominent Democrats, such as House Speaker Sara Gideon.

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Gideon, who is running to unseat Republican Sen. Susan Collins, said Biden was the “most able to bring the country together and to look into the future to address all the challenges we face.”

Sanders has a large and vocal following in Maine among progressives and college students. Tim Meehan, a Portland voter, said he’s popular because he cares about “poor people, the needy and justice for all.”

Maine’s primary apportions 24 delegates, and Sanders and Biden were sure to each win some of them. The state was among 14 holding its primary on Super Tuesday.

Biden’s strong showing in Maine was part of a surge of support around the country that followed a slow start in the earliest contests. He claimed 10 victories on Tuesday, including a critical win in Texas and a surprising victory in Massachusetts, the home of fellow candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

The outcome in Maine was stunning because Sanders was expected to win, said Mark Brewer, political scientist at the University of Maine.

“There were a huge number of Democratic voters who were not Bernie people who were looking for the non-Bernie alternative who would give them the greatest chance of beating Donald Trump in November,” he said.

Former New York City Mayor Bloomberg had a disappointing night in Maine, where he had more of a campaign presence than the other Democrats in recent weeks. He dropped out of the race Wednesday and endorsed Biden.

It was Maine’s first primary in two decades. Maine last used primaries in 1996 and 2000 and then switched to the caucus system for the next four presidential election cycles.

At least 100 municipalities reached out to the secretary of state’s office to inquire about photocopying extra ballots because they’d either run out or feared they would run out, spokeswoman Kristen Schulze Muszynski said. Photocopying ballots is accepted practice as long as state election officials grant permission. A much-debated state ballot question also drove people to polls.

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Many voters like Democrat Erik Nielsen, 62, of Portland, said they have no desire to return to caucuses.

“This is great!” he said, contrasting his experience on Tuesday against 2016 caucuses in Portland that were marred by long lines.

“We waited in this ginormous line that was probably a half a mile long, and then you get into the gymnasium, and it was like pandemonium,” the retired teacher.

Another Democrat, Teresa Berkowitz, 56, said she preferred being able to cast her vote privately than at a noisy caucus. “All of that yelling to trying to convince you to come to their side. That didn’t do well by me,” said Berkowitz, who voted for Biden.