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Election Politics

Bernie Sanders won El Paso, but Joe Biden showed a late rush


Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders won El Paso County in the Super Tuesday Democratic primary, but former Vice President Joe Biden made a late surge after gaining endorsements from prominent Democrats in El Paso and across the country.

Biden won a large victory in Saturday’s South Carolina primary, which led Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg to drop out of the race and endorse Biden. Former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke of El Paso also endorsed Biden on Monday, as did his successor in Congress, Rep. Veronica Escobar.

The former vice president, whose campaign had floundered before South Carolina, found new momentum in multiple Super Tuesday contests. He won at least nine of the 14 states holding primaries Tuesday, including Texas.

“Many El Pasoans I’d spoken with over the last few months were torn about who to vote for. They expressed to me their urgency to defeat Donald Trump — a perspective I share,” Escobar said. “I think the results from South Carolina gave many voters the direction they were looking for.”

Richard Pineda, a UTEP communications professor who studies election campaigns, said several factors led to the late Biden surge in El Paso and across the Super Tuesday landscape.

“Biden’s resurrection is fueled by his South Carolina win, the ‘Beto bump’ after Monday’s endorsement and a calculation by day-of (election) voters that Biden feels more comfortable than Sanders,” he said.

Biden’s surge in El Paso was evident in the difference between early voting and Election Day numbers. Historically, a candidate’s support in early voting and on Election Day has been very similar. But Biden’s support on Election Day was more than twice as high as in early voting.

He won only 17 percent in El Paso early voting conducted Feb. 18-28. Early voting in Texas ended the day before the South Carolina primary. On Tuesday, Biden won almost 39 percent of the El Paso vote.

Sanders won 36 percent of the El Paso vote in both early voting and on Election Day.

El Paso Democrats cast about 34,000 early votes and just over 35,000 Election Day votes. Tuesday’s turnout may have been hampered by heavy rains throughout the day.

Biden’s additional support in El Paso appears to have come at the expense of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose support fell from 25 percent in early voting to 16 percent on Election Day. 

Potential Klobuchar and Buttigieg voters also appeared to move to Biden. Those two candidates won a collective 9.6 percent of the El Paso early vote but less than 1 percent of the Election Day vote.

Sanders expanded on his support in El Paso since 2016, when he lost to eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Sanders won 17.324 El Paso votes, or 31.5 percent of votes cast in that year’s primary. This year, he won 24,738 votes, 36.3 percent of the total preliminary El Paso vote.

Robert Moore

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986. He spent most of his career at the El Paso Times, serving in a variety of leadership roles. His work has received a number of top journalism honors including the Burl Osborne award for editorial leadership, the James Madison Award from the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation, the Jack Douglas Award from Texas Associated Press Managing Editors and the Frank W. Mayborn Award for Community Leadership from the Texas Press Association. In 2013, he was the recipient of the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award from the National Press Association. As a freelance journalist, Moore’s work has appeared in the Washington Post, Texas Monthly, ProPublica, National Public Radio, The Guardian and other publications. He has been featured as an expert on the border by CNN, MSNBC, BBC, CBC and PBS.

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