Updated at 11:20 p.m. with all Missouri precincts reporting and comments from candidate supporters
Former Vice President Joe Biden won Missouri’s Democratic presidential primary by 26 percentage points Tuesday, beating Bernie Sanders in every county in the state the Vermont senator nearly won four years ago.
Biden’s Missouri victory is a continuation of momentum for the former vice president, whose campaign was in the doldrums until a string of victories over the past couple of weeks made him the frontrunner. He also won in Michigan and Mississippi on Tuesday, delivering a potentially insurmountable boost to his campaign.
With all the state’s precincts reporting, Biden racked up more than 60% of the vote compared to Sanders’ 34%.
“I think Missouri Democrats made a decision that they were going to support who they felt was the best candidate to beat Donald Trump,” said Darryl Gray, secretary of the Missouri Democratic Party.
While Michigan was the biggest prize in Tuesday’s slate of primaries, Missouri was a major test for both candidates. For Biden, a victory shows he could win in a state where Sanders nearly won in 2016. And for Sanders, Missouri showcased whether he could stall Biden’s nationwide momentum.
Both candidates put forth an effort to win the state’s delegates. Biden had well-attended rallies in St. Louis and Kansas City — and scored endorsements from a slew of high-level Democratic officials. They included St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green.
“A decisive win for Biden would mean this country is on track,” Green said at a get-out-the-vote event before polls closed. “This is what this is all about: taking our country back. Bringing character back into the White House and understanding that people need people to get things done. Joe Biden is a proven public servant that gets things done.”
Biden received more than 65% of the vote in St. Louis County — compared to close to 29% for Sanders. In the county's absentee balloting, Sanders trailed former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg — who dropped out of the race before Missouri’s primary after spending millions on advertising locally.
“Joe Biden's tried and tested,” said St. Louis Alderman Jack Coatar, D-7th Ward. “And he's worked with Barack Obama as his number two for so long. And he has great respect from all sorts of Democrats, from more conservative, maybe blue-collar Democrats, to African Americans to certain progressives who maybe aren't on board with Bernie Sanders.”
Melissa Grizzle was a supporter of former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg before he dropped out of the presidential race. She said Tuesday she was drawn to Biden because he’s been “an empathetic figure for decades.”
“I've known who Joe Biden is since I was in middle school, and he has never wavered from his commitments for people that are fighting the fights of everyday Americans,” Grizzle said.
Although Sanders did not have as much institutional support from Missouri Democratic officials, he is popular with many progressive activists in the state. And his campaign had poured money into advertisements and campaign staffers throughout Missouri.
But Tuesday’s results showed those organizational efforts fell flat. Biden won big in rural, suburban and urban areas. He even won in Boone County, the home of the University of Missouri-Columbia and a place where Sanders won in 2016 by more than 22 percentage points.
The scope of Sanders’ defeat could be a sign that Biden’s momentum is insurmountable. And that couldn’t come at a worse time for Sanders, especially since large states like Ohio, Illinois and Florida are up for grabs next week.
At a watch party at Blueberry Hill, Brendan Ziebarth said Sanders shouldn’t give up his bid for the presidency.
“I am absolutely going to be with Bernie Sanders fighting all the way to the convention — and every delegate matters,” Ziebarth said. “And every single person in this country's vote matters, because Bernie Sanders is the only candidate who can beat Donald Trump in November.”
On to November
It won’t be known right away how many delegates Biden and Sanders will receive, because Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office isn’t tracking results by congressional district. But since Biden won decisively, he’ll get the majority of the 68 delegates that were up for grabs on Tuesday.
Now that the primary is over, Missouri Democrats are gauging how Biden will affect some of their candidates in key races — such as state Auditor Nicole Galloway’s bid to unseat GOP Gov. Mike Parson.
Galloway will need to bind together an urban, suburban and rural coalition that helped elect Claire McCaskill and Jay Nixon to statewide offices. But doing that will be difficult without a stronger performance from the Democratic presidential nominee. When Hillary Clinton lost Missouri by nearly 19 points in 2016, it sank the campaigns of gubernatorial hopeful Chris Koster and U.S. Senate nominee Jason Kander.
Most public opinion polls show Trump's approval rating in Missouri around 50%, which is higher than the national average. Whether he's at that level in November remains to be seen.
Lauren Gepford, Missouri Democratic Party executive director, said in a statement, “We feel positive and excited that what we’ve heard through on-the-ground conversations with our base is shown in today’s data — Missouri Democrats are united to defeat Donald Trump and Republicans up and down the ballot this November.”
Coatar said that “if Joe Biden can narrow that gap and lose Missouri by way less than 19 points — that helps Nicole in a big way and could put her in the governor’s mansion.” She added that she thinks Biden can do that.
Trump easily won Missouri’s Republican primary Tuesday. He was facing off against several lesser-known candidates on the state ballot and will receive all of the GOP delegates up for grabs.
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