Super Tuesday: Shifting sides and lots of questions for Democrats

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign rally Monday, March 2, 2020, at Texas Southern University in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

Indian Country Today

Voters from Indian Country will have a say from Oklahoma to California from Maine to Texas

Democrats still have a lot of questions to answer and Super Tuesday may shape answers for this primary season. The Democratic establishment, or moderates, lined up behind former Vice President Joe Biden. Senator Bernie Sanders continued to draw crowds and young voters. Senator Elizabeth Warren said she still has a path to the nomination. And former Mayor Michael Bloomberg had his own ideas about how to win.

What's ahead Tuesday is voters in 14 states will pick 1357 delegates and the magic number to watch in each contest is 15 percent; the number required to actually win delegates to the party convention.

Sanders could build on his early wins in Iowa and New Hampshire. Or the moderate forces could join together and rewrite the 2020 story. Yet the primary isn't yet a two-man race. 

New York billionaire Mike Bloomberg, in particular, could create problems for Biden's establishment appeal. The former New York City mayor, who will appear on a 2020 ballot for the first time on Tuesday, has invested more than a half billion dollars into his presidential bid and wracked up many high-profile endorsements of his own. 

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Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., endorses Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden at a campaign rally Monday, March 2, 2020 in Dallas. (AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez)

And Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has struggled for delegates and momentum over the last month, has vowed to stay in the race until the party's national convention in July.

On the eve of Super Tuesday, however, Biden received a significant boost following his resounding victory over the weekend in South Carolina.

He posted his best two-day fundraising haul in more than a year, raising roughly $10 million over the last 48 hours. And the former vice president added to his considerable endorsement lead in recent days as elected officials began to coalesce more meaningfully behind him. He has long been the favorite of many elected officials even as he struggled through the first three primary contests of the year. 

Sanders' team shrugged off Biden's success. 

Some Democrats also bemoaned the distinct lack of diversity in the shrinking field.

EMILY's List and the National Organization for Women's political action committee endorsed Warren on Monday. The group's president, Toni Van Pelt, said she's alarmed about the lack of attention paid to the female candidates, who have often had to defend their "electability." 

"It's time to support a woman," she said. "We want to make sure we're not looking at all these old white men again."

Through four primary contests, the AP allocated 60 delegates to Sanders, 54 to Biden and eight to Warren. Buttigieg and Klobuchar have 26 and seven, respectively.

Candidates who drop out of the race keep the delegates they've won until each state party selects the actual people who will serve as those delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee. At that point, delegates won based on statewide primary and caucus results are given to the remaining viable candidates. Delegates won based on results in congressional districts become free agents, who can support the candidate of his or her choice on the first ballot at the convention.

The biggest prize Tuesday is California with 415 delegates at stake.

The California Native Vote Project initiatives include informing people about where to vote in LA County, calling people to pledge over the phone and to remind people to register to vote.

Statewide Census Coordinator Jesus Fraire said Native American voters in California are leaning to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren due to, “general opposition against Trump.”

He said one challenge Native American voters in California face is the low populations on the reservations that result in the lack of polling places, which the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder determines where to establish based on population. “We definitely need more polling places," Fraire said.

There are 228 delegates up for grabs in Texas.

Tribal Council Chair Cecilia Flores of the Alabama Coushatta Tribe of Texas said the voting process is very important in the presidential election as is the outcome of local elections. She cited the tribe's economic development, its Naskila Gaming casino, as an important reason to turnout. She said the tribe is offering free transportation via van for tribal members to the polls.

“We initiated a voter registration drive and we’re strongly encouraging our tribal citizens to vote,” Flores said.

She hopes the initiative will help tribal members be aware of Native issues and which candidates are actively opposing Native issues in Texas.

“The reaction is very positive, families are talking about voting and having that conversation," she said. "Historically our community hasn’t done well in the polls and hopefully we’ll change that."

Flores added that even her 91-year-old mother is excited to vote. 

In Massachusetts, 91 delegates are up for grabs in Warren’s home state. Political website FiveThirtyEight predicts a close win for Sanders with Warren coming in second followed by Biden and Bloomberg.

In Minnesota, news of Sen. Amy Klobuchar ending her presidential bid a day before the primary wasn’t a surprise for some voters. Multiple reports said Klobuchar was going to endorse Biden. Minnesota has 75 delegates. FiveThirtyEight predicts a win for Sanders.

Ray Skip Sandman, a Duluth, Minn. resident and Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa citizen, was a state congressional candidate in 2018. He’s a Sanders supporter and said Klobuchar dropping out is a political move for future elections. Sandman said he likes Sanders’ healthcare and environmental platform.

“Bernie is common sense politics,” he said. “He’s talking about the same issues that I ran my campaign. There’s a lot of support for Bernie, a lot of tribes here for Bernie.”

Sheila Lamb, White Earth Ojibwe, Eastern Cherokee, was on her way to a Sanders rally in St. Paul a day before the primary. Lamb is a council member in Cloquet, Minn., and has endorsed Sanders. She sides with Sanders on healthcare, education and the environment. Lamb said her husband had health complications in the past and income restrictions limited insurance options making healthcare bills nearly impossible to pay. She thinks Sanders will change that for future families.

“Bernie is my first choice,” Lamb said. “I believe Bernie is trying to change the system outside but from within.”

Bemidji State University student Christian Taylor-Johnson is treasurer of the school’s Council of Indian Students and treasure of Phoenix Club, a school organization for LGBTQIA2S+ people and allies. He studies political science and is a Sanders supporter.

“Most of his policies are comprehensive and align with my values,” Taylor-Johnson said. “He’s the best democratic candidate, in my opinion.”

Taylor-Johnson said he’s Ojibwe descent, his dad is a Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe citizen and his mom is not Native. “I’m an openly gay man, I’ve seen such injustice happen to the gay community and the gay Indigenous communities. None of these candidates stand up for my Community, I want a candidate who does, someone who marched with Martin Luther King Jr as a youth as my president.”

In a statement, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin, a supporter of Amy Klobuchar’s presidential campaign, said Klobuchar has always supported tribes.

“Amy has always won her senate seat with large margins,” Benjamin said. “She is a friend, a wonderful senator and I fully support her decision and will continue to support her. Amy is a staunch supporter of tribal sovereignty, and she has always been there for the tribes on housing, health care, education, law enforcement and all other issues that impact our people on reservations and in cities. She would have made a wonderful president, but will continue to be an outstanding senator who works hard for Indian tribes and people.”

Sanders is predicted to earn a win and a majority of Colorado’s 67 delegates, according to FiveThirtyEight website.

Denver resident Jennifer Wolf, Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, sent her ballot early and voted for Warren. She said Sanders’ electability in the general election “scares” her. Wolf said still supports Warren even with the many controversies like Warren’s past claim of Native American heritage.

“It’s tough for me to forgive,” she said. “But when I see Elizabeth Warren on her (debate) platform handing Bloomberg his rear end, I’m cheering for her. It’s a balance from what I am first, a woman or Indigenous person and my heart says Indigenous person” while her head says Warren.

Most of Wolf’s friends and family are Sanders supporters. However, Wolf said she'll vote for whoever captures the democratic ticket in November.

16-year-old Seneca Williams, Oglala Sioux Tribe, is a junior in a Denver high school. He’s a wiz on politics and predicts a Trump victory in November no matter who he faces. Williams said he doesn’t align with any major political party but has some libertarian views. He’s been interested in the government for the last few years and “I wanted to know how the system works,” he said. He calls his interest a passionate hobby.

Williams, who will miss the general election age limit by less than a year, predicts a Sanders victory in Colorado.

“I think the problem is the Democrats are not united, where the republicans are more united and polling better with independent voters,” Williams said. “I don’t see it ending well for democrats, they need to get their crap together.”

Oklahoma is home to 39 tribal nations. Jasha Lyons Echo-Hawk, who is Seminole, Pawnee, Creek, Omaha and Iowa, is the chair of the Native Federation of Oklahoma Democrats.

Echo-Hawk predicts the front runners are Sanders and Warren.

She says in 2016, Native communities voted heavily for Sanders. “He’s still got a pretty good grip on voters here,” Echo-Hawk said.

To encourage Native people to vote, the Native Federation of Oklahoma Democrats has been posting on their social media pages encouraging people to get registered to vote.

Bryan Jansen, Navajo, is a registered voter who lives near Provo, Utah. Jansen previously identified as an independent, citing being slightly conversative leaning. He says that sentiment changed after the Trump administration.

“I would have never imagined myself voting for Bernie,” Jansen said. “But I voted for him this time.”

Jansen says of all the candidates, Sanders has closely aligned with his belief that the federal government should follow through with its treaty responsibilities to support tribal nations.

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The same sentiment rang true for James Singer, Navajo. Singer, who unsuccessfully ran as the Democratic nominee to represent Utah in the U.S. Congress in 2018, says he voted for Sanders.

Singer predicts that the two Democratic frontrunners in Utah will be Sanders and Biden. He says the election may be decided by a huge factor: the age of the voter.

He says he has heard older generations say Sanders is too radical.

“You need a radical solution to some problems because they’re so big,” Singer said while citing that nearly 40 percent of Native people living in southeastern Utah don’t have a reliable connection to running water.

“I would be really distraught if Joe Biden gets the nomination,” Singer said. “I don’t know if I would vote for him in November if he did.”

The Rural Utah Project is a non-profit organization who is giving rural homes numbers to their homes and “addressing” them. This allows people to register to vote and even call 911, if needed. In 2018, the organization registered over 1,600 voters on the Navajo Nation in San Juan County which is home to Bears Ears National Monument.

Maine is among the whitest states in the U.S., 96 percent white however  1.7 percent of the state’s population is Native American, according to the Maine Democratic Party. Similar to Vermont, polls have shown Maine is leaning toward Sen. Bernie Sanders as voters get ready to head to the polls for the Democratic primary Tuesday.

The Pine Tree State has 32 delegates, 24 of which are pledged delegates and eight are super-delegates and are distributed proportionately.

There are four federally recognized tribes in the state: Aroostook Band of Micmac Indians of Maine, Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians of Maine, Passamaquoddy Tribe of Maine and the Penobscot Nation.

As should be expected, Sen. Bernie Sanders is the overwhelming favorite to win Vermont’s 16 delegates on Super Tuesday. After all, it is his home state and he won resoundingly in 2016, garnering 86 percent of the vote over his then competitor Hilary Clinton.

There are four state recognized tribes in the state: the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe, the Koasek Traditional Band of the Koas Abenaki Nation and the Abenaki Nation at Missisquoi.

Hillary Hoffmann, a professor at the University of Vermont Law School and appointee to the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs, said she was unaware of any push to get out the Native vote in the state and that they were approaching the primary with caution.

“They’re cautiously waiting to see if any promises that were made will come to fruition,” Hoffmann said. “It’s especially cautious in Vermont because the Abenaki has had such a long battle for federal recognition that failed.”

North Carolina has 110 delegates up for grabs on Tuesday and former Vice President Joe Biden has a slight edge over Sen. Bernie Sanders, according to a most recent poll from Real Clear Politics.

Biden is looking to keep the “Joementum” (momentum) moving in the right direction after his win in South Carolina over the weekend. It is unclear how the campaign suspensions of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer might boost Biden as the race for the Democratic nomination continues.

Voting rights an important issue

The two biggest states participating in Super Tuesday represent another story aside from what happens in the Democratic primary: Voting rights.

California and Texas are the most populous states in the nation and the biggest delegate prizes on Tuesday for the presidential contestants. They also present a stark contrast in voting laws.

Deeply Democratic California has taken several steps in recent years to make it easier to register and vote, including pre-registration for teenagers, community drop-off centers for early voting and the ability to register on Election Day.

While Texas has early voting, the Republican-controlled state also has policies that make voting more challenging. Those include a voter ID law that allows handgun licenses but not college IDs, and restrictions on how and when people can register. Last year, Texas officials also sent letters to 95,000 registered voters to tell them they may not be eligible because they're not citizens — only to find serious flaws in the list.

The two Super Tuesday giants illustrate how the ability to easily register and cast a ballot depends in many ways on where voters live. In the last presidential election four years ago, 75% of registered California voters participated. In Texas, it was 59%.

"You have America moving in two very distinct directions. On one hand, you have these states that fully embrace and believe in democracy," said Carol Anderson, an Emory University professor who has written a book on voter suppression. "On the other hand, you have states that treat it as a privilege that only those who can jump through a maze of tunnels, obstacles and bridges ... can vote."

California is one of 16 states with a version of automatic voter registration, in which those who are eligible to vote and do business with the state Department of Motor Vehicles also get registered unless they opt out.

The program, in place since 2018, has caused some headaches; an error in the system in its first year caused about 23,000 people to be registered with the wrong party affiliation, for instance. But it also has been credited with leading to a surge in voter registration.

California also is one of 14 states where teenagers can pre-register to vote once they turn 16. Texas is among the most restrictive, allowing teens to sign up only two months before they turn 18, the national voting age.

And if elections arrive and California residents still haven't registered, they can sign up that day at a vote center. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have laws allowing Election Day registration.

In Texas, voters must be registered 30 days before an election.

The result has been a dramatic spike in voter registrations in California. The number of registered voters has grown 21 percent since 2012 while the state's population has budged only slightly, growing 4 percent. Voter registration also has grown in Texas as its population has exploded, but not as much relatively as California. The state has grown by 11 percent since 2012 while the voter rolls have increased by 19 percent.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report. Indian Country Today reporters included Aliyah Chavez, Dalton Walker, Quindrea Yazzie, Kalle Benallie, and Mark Trahant.

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