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The Super Tuesday Shocker That Wasn’t: Biden Pulls Out a Tie in American Samoa

It looked at first like an embarrassing loss for a president struggling to rally his party behind him: For three hours on Tuesday night, President Biden appeared to have lost the Democratic caucus on a faraway Pacific island, American Samoa, to a little-known opponent.

But it turns out that the embarrassment was not Mr. Biden’s. Or at least not his alone.

By 12:25 a.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, party officials in Pago Pago corrected their own arithmetic. Mr. Biden had not, in fact, lost. He had managed a tie, securing three of the territory’s six delegates — one more than the party had initially reported.

There was no issue with the ballot counting: Jason Palmer, a largely unknown entrepreneur from Maryland who had campaigned on a promise to improve the Samoan education system, received 51 votes to Mr. Biden’s 40.

The problem was a rounding error: Mr. Palmer’s 56 percent share amounted to 3.4 delegates, but was incorrectly rounded up to four. Mr. Biden’s 44 percent share amounted to 2.6 delegates, but was incorrectly rounded down to two. Dean Phillips, the Minnesota congressman, was the only other Democrat who appeared on ballots, but won neither any delegates nor any votes. (The initial results and delegate allocation were confirmed by The Associated Press.)

In a statement with the corrected numbers, Andrew Berquist, a national committeeman, said simply, “We have amended our delegate count, due to a calculation error. Remainder of the results are the same.”

While the error may have cost Mr. Palmer a clean win, his vote tally still did come as a surprise. But Democrats in American Samoa have a history of delivering unexpected results, even when vote counting goes according to plan. In 2016, a majority of caucusgoers cast ballots for uncommitted delegates rather than for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. And in 2020, Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, won there, giving him the only victory in his campaign.

Mr. Palmer may have been the only Democrat to campaign there, hosting virtual town-hall events and employing local staff in the island territory, which is about 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii. Its residents are not eligible to vote in the general election.

Mr. Palmer campaigned in the territory on three issues: improved access to health care, additional educational resources and aggressive efforts to curb the effects of climate change. He credits his American Samoa campaign team of just three employees for helping him connect with residents.

“I felt like I really was hearing them, understanding them, and building a plan to address their needs,” he said in an interview with The New York Times before the tally was amended.

In his quixotic campaign against Mr. Biden, Mr. Palmer has emphasized his relative youth. At 52, he is the youngest Democrat in the race, and nearly 30 years Mr. Biden’s junior.

“Joe Biden has been a great public servant for 50 years,” he said. “I voted for him four years ago. But we want a younger candidate. We want someone who’s going to be more energetic and active and can beat Donald Trump.”

Mr. Palmer has also sought to distinguish himself from the Mr. Biden on policy: In February, he called for a cease-fire in Gaza in a video posted on X.

But while he acknowledged that Mr. Biden is “very likely” to win the party’s nomination, he said he would campaign next in Arizona and focus on his plan to fix the country’s immigration system, along with other issues he has worked on.

“This is a very serious campaign,” Mr. Palmer said. “My goal is to win enough delegates to the Democratic National Convention to make education a priority issue in this election.”

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