Utah voters turn out for first Super Tuesday primary voting in 12 years

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Vt. Sen. Bernie Sanders rallies his supporters at the Utah State Fairpark, March 2, 2020, one day before Utah's Super Tuesday primary.

Salt Lake City • Utah is holding its presidential primary on Super Tuesday — the high-profile series of contests in 14 delegate-rich states across the country — for the first time since 2008.

The Democratic front-runner is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, though Utah voters have also been courted by moderates in the weeks leading up to the contest. The Democratic primary is open in Utah, so voters can cast a ballot regardless of party affiliation.

“I like Bernie because he supports the working man and woman,” said Emily Tonkovich, 32, who works in sales in the medical industry. “Health care is important, taxing people with extreme income. I just think it’s fair.”

Lincoln Eggertz, 37, voted for Sanders because he said it's time to get rid of ultra-wealthy politicians and replace them with someone who understands the plight of regular people. He scoffed at the theory that Sanders can't beat President Donald Trump in November.

"I think there is a lot of young people out there that want to see change and that whole entire group is underestimated right now," said Eggertz, a college student and bartender from Sandy, Utah.

[Read more: Here’s how you can still participate in Utah’s primary election]

While Sanders is popular with the state's left-leaning voters, some in the Republican majority have not fully embraced Trump and moderates see an opportunity to woo middle-of-the-road voters with a pitch that they offer the best chance to unseat the president.

Rob Applegarth, a 67-year-old respiratory therapist from Riverton, said he voted for former Vice President Joe Biden. While he personally likes some of Sanders ideas, he thinks Biden can bring in a bigger coalition. "I think Bernie scares people off," he said.

His wife, Suzy Applegarth, voted for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. “If she was a man, she’d be winning,” said the registered nurse.

Alton McCalla, a 37-year-old data analyst from Sandy, voted for Biden because he believes he has the best chance to defeat Trump.

“I think he’ll bridge the gap with moderate Republicans and maybe the Republicans that don’t want to necessarily vote for Trump,” said McCalla, of Sandy.

He never considered Mike Bloomberg, who has been criticized for enforcing a “stop and frisk” policing tactic while he was mayor of New York City that disproportionately affected minorities. McCalla, who is black, said he lived in New York during that era and said he was frisked so frequently that he would just stop and tell the officers to get it over with it.

McCalla laughed about Bloomberg's late entry into the Democratic race and his big spending: "He dumped so much money and I feel like it was for nothing. He should have used that money to back the Democratic nominee."

Shelley Evans, a 53-year-old hairdresser and orthodontal assistant, said she thinks Bloomberg's deep pockets give him the best chance to defeat Trump. She voted for him after considering Biden and lobbying from her son trying to pick Sanders, who she thinks could never pay for all the programs he's promising.

“We need a very, very strong candidate to beat President Trump,” Evans said. “I know it sounds really bad, but I feel like he’s got the funds and the money to do it. . . He is backing himself. It kind of makes him so he’s not biased.”

Salt Lake County, the state’s most populous, sent out nearly 333,000 mail-in ballots, and more than 40% were for the Democratic primary, according to the county clerk. That’s larger that the county’s proportion of registered Democrats, an indication of the enthusiasm for the contest.

Most Utah county votes by mail, but polls will be open for traditional voting as well. The state also allows same-day voter registration.

Utah has 35 Democratic delegates, six are super delegates and 29 are pledged. They’re awarded on a proportional basis, though the allotment isn’t expected to announced immediately.

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