DENVER (CN) – A week ago, the temperature in Denver was 50 degrees and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders led in Colorado polling ahead of Super Tuesday. The weather’s warmer now and Sanders still seems to be ahead in the Centennial State, but the gap between him and former Vice President Joe Biden has narrowed.
Colorado is one of 14 states turning in primary ballots Tuesday. While the Republican ticket will almost certainly nominate incumbent President Donald Trump, many Democrats hope Tuesday’s election will narrow the field and boost the remaining candidates.
Tuesday morning, a steady stream of voters raced from their cars to a ballot drop off box in Lakewood, Colorado. Since ballots were printed in December, nine candidates have dropped out of the race and many cautious voters waited until the last minute before sealing their envelopes. Although the Denver suburb leans conservative most of the voters were Democrats, having finally made up their mind.
“I supported Bernie until today and switched to Biden. I was waiting to see how he would do in South Carolina,” said Corky Valdez, a registered Democrat. “I voted for Biden because Trump’s afraid of him, and I want to get Trump out. He can beat Trump, because he’s Uncle Joe for crying out loud!”
Following underwhelming results in early primary states, Biden bet his candidacy on South Carolina this past weekend. After capturing nearly 50% of the vote there, Biden has since seen a surge according to the pollster Morning Consult – on Tuesday it found 36% of Americans support Biden, compared to 28% who support Sanders, 19% who support billionaire Michael Bloomberg, and 14% who support Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Nationwide, FiveThirtyEight’s delegate tracker flipped Tuesday morning, calculating Biden leading Super Tuesday states with Sanders in second. This algorithm also acknowledges a 61% chance that no one will earn enough delegates to clinch the nomination in the first round at the Democratic convention this summer.
Biden has earned most endorsements and appears favored by many party elites, but Sanders has won the most delegates so far and Bloomberg is about to see if his half billion-dollar investment in marketing pays off.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have concerns about Biden going up against Trump,” said Lydia Sulc, a Lakewood Democrat who cast her vote for Sanders on Tuesday. “Getting Trump out is the most important issue but in the primary, I’ll vote with my heart and choose the person who has the best vision moving forward.”
In 2016, Sanders handily beat Hillary Clinton in Colorado with 59% of the vote. Fast forward four years, and he’s still popular in the Centennial State: he drew 11,000 supporters to the Colorado Convention Center downtown.
Although nearly equal shares of Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters inhabit this region of the Rockies, the swing state has leaned decided blue in recent years, packing the both statehouse and governor’s mansion with Democrats and flipping the famously conservative 6th District during the midterm blue wave.
After campaigning mostly against Sanders, moderate Democratic candidates Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar withdrew from the race and endorsed endorse Biden on Monday. They are not alone in wondering whether Sanders can beat free-market nationalist Trump by running on a Democratic Socialist platform and pushing Medicare for All.
On Friday, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet reflected on his own 2020 run before a crowded lecture hall at the University of Denver Sturm Law School.
“People thought I was a credible candidate, they thought I had a credible plan, they didn’t think I had a credible way to win,” Bennet said, adding with a humble chuckle, “Turns out they were right.”
A chess-minded centrist, Bennet used much of his time on televised debates warning against choosing Sanders because “he doesn’t represent the party.”
But many voters disagree.
“I think you’re reading it wrong,” said Marie B., curly hair piled on top of her head. “You’re my senator, I work in agriculture and I support Bernie Sanders. The question is are you going to shift to where your people are?”
The question won’t be answered until polls close this evening. It may be an imperfect system, but this is what democracy looks like.