Bernie Sanders won Utah’s Democratic primary election on Super Tuesday.
The win is a necessary one for Sanders — who went into Tuesday as the frontrunner in the Democratic primary, but is still fending off a resurgent Joe Biden. Utah holds 29 pledged delegates, which will be given out proportionately — 19 of the pledged delegates will be allocated by congressional district, and another 10 will be allocated based on the statewide vote. A candidate will need 1,991 elected delegates for a majority at the Democratic National Convention later this year; if no candidate gets that, there will be a second ballot, and potentially more, involving unelected superdelegates.
Sanders was the favorite going into the race, having won the 2016 caucus in Utah with 79.3 percent of the vote against then-opponent Hillary Clinton. That may be surprising in deep-red Utah, but it’s perhaps because the state is a Republican stronghold that Sanders has led there.
“Utah Democrats know that they are in the minority in the state and so for some the sense is that a Democrat is not going to win Utah in a general election anyway, so why compromise or equivocate?” Matthew Burbank, a political science professor at the University of Utah, told me. “Why not choose the candidate that expresses your most desired policy positions, and indeed some of the frustrations of being in the minority, since your choice isn’t likely to win anyway?”
Still, there was some uncertainty. Since 2016, Utah moved from a caucus to a primary election system, in which voting is largely done by mail. Polling was also very sparse in Utah, but, according to RealClearPolitics’s tracker, Sanders was consistently ahead in polls by 6 to 13 points.
There was also the possibility that Democratic priorities have shifted since 2016, with a lot of the attention in 2020 going to beating President Donald Trump. That created an opening for more moderate candidates like Biden, coming off a win in South Carolina, or former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who’s spent hundreds of millions of dollars from his own fortune on ads for his bid.
“While there is a sizable number of more progressive Democrats in Salt Lake City and county, there are also a bigger number of more moderate, establishment-type Democrats and some unaffiliated voters who want a serious alternative to Trump,” Burbank wrote in an email. “Since this is a primary [instead of a caucus], I expect to see more of the moderate vote showing up in the Democratic results this year than in 2016.”
Those moderates, however, seemingly weren’t enough to outweigh Sanders’s support from younger and more liberal voters.