SALT LAKE CITY — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was leading in Utah’s first Super Tuesday Democratic presidential primary with 35% of the vote in initial results, followed by former Vice President Joe Biden with 17.15%, and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg with 16.89%.

Biden and Bloomberg, who dropped out of the race early Wednesday, traded places in the final set of the Election Day results, released just before midnight Tuesday.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren stayed n fourth place in Utah as ballots continued to be counted, hovering above 15%, the threshold to share in delegates. Utah’s 29 pledged Democratic delegates are not expected to be immediately allocated.

The Utah primary was called early for Sanders by the Associated Press and other media outlets, but Biden was still expecting a boost in the state from his big win in Saturday’s South Carolina primary and a growing list of endorsements, including two competitors who just dropped out of the race.

Those candidates, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, had 10% and 4%, respectively. Utah’s decision to join 13 other states and one U.S. territory voting on Tuesday helped push a record 34% voter turnout in the state with more than 501,000 ballots cast.

“Great numbers,” state Elections Director Justin Lee said. “And still counting, with ballots coming in over the next couple of days.”

On Wednesday morning, Bloomberg announced he was dropping out of the race and endorsing Biden.

Biden scored key victories in Minnesota and across the South, including Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Virginia. Sanders countered with wins in his home state of Vermont and in Colorado, early returns show.

Sanders was also leading in the delegate-rich state of California, while he and Biden battled for Texas and Maine.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump easily claimed the Utah Republican primary with 88% of the vote.

“Tonight proved that Utahns are firmly united behind President Trump,” Trump Victory spokeswoman Samantha Zager said in a statement. “No matter which socialist Democrat ultimately makes it on the ballot in November, Utahns will choose to continue the success they’ve experienced under President Trump’s ‘Promises Made. Promises Kept’ agenda and reelect him to four more years.” 

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‘Let us transform this country,’ Bernie Sanders tells Utah crowd

Sanders, the big winner of the Utah Democratic Party caucus vote in 2016, held a rally Monday at the Utah State Fairpark that attracted several thousand supporters who waited up to two hours in the cold and mud to hear the self-described democratic socialist’s call for “a government that works for all and not just the few.”

“There are definitely a lot of Bernie fans here,” said Lex Scott, founder of Black Lives Matter Utah and one of five co-chairing Sanders’ Utah campaign. “He’s genuine and he hits home with the majority of us. ... His message really resonates with working class people who want change in this country.”

Midvale City Councilman Dustin Gettel, another Sanders co-chairman in Utah, said the early numbers in the state “couldn’t be more encouraging.” But Gettel said given Biden’s wins across the country, “at the end of the night the delegate count between Sanders and Biden is going to be pretty dead even.”

Scott declined to say Biden is surging ahead.

“If you’re a football team that just lost five games and you won one game and people are talking about you going to the Super Bowl, I don’t understand that,” Scott said, but added she will vote for the party’s nominee in November, whoever it is. “We cannot throw a tantrum if our candidate doesn’t win.”

Biden backer Scott Howell said the vice president’s campaign strategy kept him from campaigning in Utah because the “plan was to have a huge South Carolina surge,” to resuscitate his campaign going into Super Tuesday.

“They went for a Hail Mary and they put all the resources, all the dollars, into that and it worked,” said Howell, a former Democratic state Senate leader, promising Biden will hold a campaign event in Utah. “I’m telling you right now, he will come out here.”

Howell said Biden appeals to moderates in Utah, including some Republicans “who want to see a change but they don’t want Bernie. They’re not a socialist mentality. They believe in fiscal responsibility. ... They know who Joe Biden is. They know what he stands for. They know his moral integrity.”

Bloomberg’s state director, Lauren Littlefield, said he expects to finish strong in Utah. The billionaire candidate has spent more than $3 million in advertising alone in the state and has opened two offices with a paid staff of 20 people.

“We have had the largest footprint of any presidential campaign,” she said. “We’ve made thousands of phone calls today alone. ... Our goal tonight is to put some delegates on the board, make sure we get some national delegates, and then on to convention.”

Earlier in the day Bloomberg described what winning looks like for him on Super Tuesday in an interview with Deseret News Opinion Editor Boyd Matheson.

“Well, you’re not going to get the most delegates. I think that’s clear. But you want a respectable finish where you get delegates in lots of states,” Bloomberg said. “And our strategy is to get to the convention with nobody having a majority, then all of the delegates are free, and they start thinking, ‘OK, who can beat Donald Trump and who can run the country?’ And that’s where we make our case.”

Chris Karpowitz, co-director of BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said it’s “clear that early voting, while convenient for voters, can also be challenging when the list of candidates changes at the last second.”

Because ballots were mailed out weeks ago in Utah’s largely by-mail election, many Utahns had already voted before some candidates ended their campaigns — and before Biden won South Carolina and began adding new support from fellow moderates.

Karpowitz pointed out Sanders did the best in the western United States, and Bloomberg appeared to be performing well in Utah, California and Colorado, raising “the question of whether Bloomberg, who got into the race to prevent a Sanders nomination, is actually facilitating Bernie’s success.”

In Utah, “clearly, some of the enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders from 2016 carried over to 2020, but not all of it,” Karpowitz said, with Sanders winning “but not with anywhere near the dominating performance he had in 2016” when he beat the eventual Democratic Party nominee, Hillary Clinton, with nearly 80% of the vote.

Utah, a state that hasn’t voted for a Democrat for president since 1964, went for Trump four years ago.

At the Sanders campaign headquarters in West Valley City, cheers broke out shortly after the polls closed and the first returns showed the Vermont senator with a substantial lead.

Jodi Clemens, state coordinator for the Sanders campaign, said the results weren’t a surprise.

“When we were out knocking on doors, we rarely heard any other names,” Clemens said. “The volunteers have just completely blown us away. They have been organizing here for months, holding weekly phone banks, knocking on doors, talking to people. The victory tonight is absolutely theirs.”

One of those volunteers, Jonathan Marquez, told the Deseret News he’s excited to see Sanders bring “the country back to sanity.”

Marquez said even if Sanders doesn’t win the nomination, he will stand by any of the Democratic candidates. But some supporters at the election night gathering didn’t share that sentiment.

“I think it’s pretty much between Sanders and not voting,” Utah Valley University student Ryan Strickland said. “Any of the other candidates would pretty much be the same thing (as Trump). It’s basically just politicians being politicians.”

At the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, dozens of excited students packed a room laden with TV screens and projectors to eat pizza and watch election results.

“It’s surprising to see so much energy because it’s just the primary,” said Lauren Harvey, a sophomore at the University of Utah. “I voted for Elizabeth Warren and I’m a little bummed to see that she’s not being picked for literally anything.”

Sierra McNeil, a senior, said she also voted for Warren because, unlike Sanders, the Massachusetts senator has a proven track record.

“They have the same level of ideas, they’re both pretty progressive, they both want to see big structural change in America,” McNeil said. “But Elizabeth has the plans to get it done.”

Both Harvey and McNeil said that regardless of Tuesdays results, they would support any of the candidates. But both had some reservations about voting for Bloomberg.

“I would cry all over my ballot, but I would vote for Bloomberg,” Harvey said about the prospect of a Bloomberg-Trump general election.

“Same,” said McNeil, “I couldn’t vote for Trump.”

Lee said the previous record for the number of ballots cast in a presidential primary — 428,459 in 2008 — was broken several hours before the polls closed at 8 p.m. With an hour left, 479,771 votes had been cast and the turnout record had been broken, too, with 32.5% of voters participating.

In 2008 there were contested Republican and Democratic races — and now-Utah Sen. Mitt Romney was making his first bid for the White House. In 2016, the state allowed political parties to run presidential preference votes at their March caucuses. Long lines and other issues contributed to only around 250,000 Utahns participating.