HOUSTON (CN) — Joe Biden won the most delegates in Texas on Tuesday, beating Bernie Sanders by more than 70,000 votes and defying polls that showed Sanders as the favorite.
Sanders held a slim lead in early voting results, in which more than 1 million Texas Democrats cast ballots, more than doubling the early-voting total of 465,245 in the 2018 Democratic primary.
Biden keyed on Texas, holding rallies in Houston and Dallas on Monday and got a big boost when former Texas congressman and 2020 presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke endorsed him at the Dallas rally.
“We’re doing well in Texas because of Beto O’Rourke,” an exuberant Biden said Tuesday night in Los Angeles.
Biden’s victory gave him the largest share of Texas’ 228 pledged delegates and buffered him against Sanders’ decisive victory in California.
The large turnout overwhelmed polling places in Harris County, the state’s most populous, where some voters in the county seat Houston reportedly had to stand in line for more than 5 hours.
Harris County is a Democratic stronghold: Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by more than 160,000 votes there in the November 2016 presidential election.
Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman, a Democrat, blamed the long lines Tuesday on the decision by the county’s Republican party to split up voting machines. Democrats were directed to machines which only had the Democratic ballot and vice versa.
Harris County Republican Party Chairman Paul Simpson said he did want Republicans to have to wait in long lines on account of the large turnout for the Democratic presidential primary, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Local media reported the machines on the Republican side were deserted Tuesday night in some polling places.
“The only way to change this is to have a joint primary, and that would be just one line, there’s not a line for each party. There’s just one line and all the voters can use all the machines. That would really have expedited this whole thing,” Trautman told KHOU 11.
Of Texas’ largest counties, Sanders did best in the state capital Austin’s Travis County, garnering 83,802 to Biden’s second-place total of 52,731.
In Bexar County, home of San Antonio, Biden edged out Sanders by less than 2,000 votes.
Michael Bloomberg skipped the first four Democratic primaries and his name appeared on the ballot for the first time in the 14 states that voted on Super Tuesday.
Bloomberg spent $57 million of his estimated $60 billion fortune in Texas, stuffing Democrats’ mailboxes with mailers, sending text messages to their phones and filling the radio and TV airwaves, especially Spanish-language stations, with his campaign ads.
But he finished a distant third behind Biden and Sanders.
The election was even more disappointing for Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. She garnered less than 250,000 votes and finished in fourth place, in the state she once called home as a University of Houston student and law professor.
Unofficial results nationwide from Super Tuesday catapulted Biden into the lead over Sanders, 399 delegates to 308.
Though no Democratic presidential candidate has received more votes in Texas than a Republican since Jimmy Carter in 1976, a recent poll of 1,004 registered voters by Univision and the University of Houston’s Center for Mexican American Studies found the state is becoming more competitive.
“The main question is if Texas is going to turn blue in the next election. We don’t have a magic crystal ball to say yes, but we can certainly say Republicans are losing ground,” said Jeronimo Cortina, University of Houston political science professor.