LOS ANGELES — California appeared to deliver a pivotal victory to Senator Bernie Sanders Tuesday night, driven by a coalition of Latinos, young people and liberal voters up and down the state. With 415 pledged delegates, California is by far the biggest prize of Super Tuesday and Mr. Sanders had been banking on a significant win there.
With millions of ballots left to count, it is impossible to know how the delegates will be allocated, and it may not be clear for several days or even weeks. Roughly two-thirds of California delegates are distributed based on congressional districts, with candidates needing at least 15 percent of the vote to win any delegates.
But with Mr. Sanders receiving more than 70 percent of Latino voters under the age of 30, and about half of Latino voters over all, according to exit polls, his lead over the other candidates looked decisive.
The Associated Press projected Mr. Sanders as the winner of the state just minutes after the polls closed, while thousands of voters in Los Angeles County were still in line to cast their ballots because of problems with voting machines.
A new $300 million voting system caused waits as long as four hours at dozens of polling sites throughout Los Angeles County, including in Westwood, the San Fernando Valley, Los Feliz and the east side of Los Angeles. The sign-in process to check voters against the voting rolls took hours at several sites, and internet issues left many centers with a small fraction of working machines. Lines continued past 10 p.m. at many locations, including several college campuses.
More than 4 million mail-in ballots had been sent in by Tuesday morning, and as many as 5 million ballots were left to count by Wednesday, according to an analysis from Political Data Inc., a California-research group that closely tracks returns.
Along with Mr. Sanders, both former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, seemed likely to receive delegates in the state, based on early returns. Mr. Bloomberg had poured $66 million into television advertising here, far more than any other candidate.
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State officials moved up the state’s primary to March this year in an attempt to make California more politically influential when it comes to choosing the Democratic presidential nominee. The change meant that voters saw far more television advertisements: roughly $120 million worth, with the majority coming from Mr. Bloomberg.
Several candidates visited parts of the state that have long been ignored in statewide elections, including Bakersfield and Riverside. Still, California never drew the candidates of early-voting states like Iowa or New Hampshire and most of the candidates relied on national news coverage to gain recognition in the state.
There was a clear generational split in the state, with Mr. Sanders winning among voters under 49, but Mr. Biden was the clear preference with voters older than 50. Mr. Biden won among older voters, black voters and moderates in California, the same coalition that helped him win several other states Tuesday. Mr. Sanders appeared to win among voters at all education levels, according to exit polls.
Mr. Sanders won more white and Asian-American voters, but reflecting a national trend, Mr. Biden took the lead among black voters, according to exit polls. Voters who chose a candidate in the final days sided with Mr. Biden by a 10-point margin, those polls showed.
In 2016, California proved to be something of a firewall for Hillary Clinton, who beat Mr. Sanders with 53 percent of the vote to his 46 percent. That year, the state voted in June, when the primary race was all but over.
This year it was Mr. Sanders who counted on California to be his own firewall. His campaign frequently referred to the “first five” states, lumping California with Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. In turn, the campaign poured significant resources into advertising and organizing in a state that has traditionally been viewed as impossible to penetrate by door knocking because of its vast size.
Mr. Sanders also held several large rallies in California, including one at Venice Beach in December with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and several in the final days before Tuesday’s vote.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that later in the evening, we can win the largest state in this country, the state of California,” Mr. Sanders said during a rally in Vermont, before the polls had closed in California.
For months, the Sanders campaign focused its efforts in heavily Latino neighborhoods around the state, from the Coachella Valley and Bakersfield to Santa Ana, as well as in South and East Los Angeles.
For Lorena Vellanowth, Mr. Sanders clearly showed a commitment to issues that she believes are important to Latino voters. Ms. Vellanowth came to Los Angeles from Mexico as a baby, and her daughter went on to graduate from U.C.L.A., and then to attend graduate school at the University of Southern California.
But all that success came with a big caveat: Her daughter, who works in public administration for the city of Anaheim, is struggling under the weight of almost a half-million dollars in student loans.
“Bigger than my mortgage,” said Ms. Vellanowth, 43, who works in health care. She said her daughter is getting married this month, and she worries about how her daughter and husband will ever be able to afford having children, or buy a home.
That reason alone was enough to draw her, and many of her family members and friends in the Latino community in Los Angeles to Mr. Sanders, attracted, she said, by his message of fighting the type of inequality they feel every day.
“I’m Latina, and you’d think that’s not someone I’d vote for, an old white guy,” she said on Monday afternoon, standing outside a polling place at a park in the heavily Latino East Los Angeles named for Ruben Salazar, a Los Angeles journalist who was killed in 1970 during a protest against the Vietnam War.
But she worries about her candidate’s future, now that the establishment of the Democratic Party is coalescing around Mr. Biden.
“I just hope the Democratic Party doesn’t screw him,” she said, of Mr. Sanders. Ms. Vellanowth, who became an American citizen in 2013 and cast her first presidential vote for Mr. Sanders in the 2016 primary, said she feared history would repeat itself, with the moderates of the party gathering around Mr. Biden as they did with Hillary Clinton in 2016, thwarting Mr. Sanders’s candidacy.
Mr. Sanders also captured the imagination of California’s young people, many of whom are struggling with the exorbitant cost of living in the state and buckling under student loans.
“It’s called a living wage for a reason,” said Alex Mora, 24, who lives in East Los Angeles, and voted for Mr. Sanders because of his promise to raise the minimum wage. “A lot of us are stuck at home and we can’t find a way out because of how low paying our jobs are.”
In California, which has the fifth-largest economy in the world but is also home to the highest poverty rate in the nation when housing costs are factored, wealth inequality has been a paramount political issue driving voters to the polls.
With such a wealth chasm as a backdrop, Mr. Sanders’s platform of “Medicare for all,” free college tuition and student loan relief has resonated deeply. He has also promised to protect so-called dreamers — immigrants who arrived in the country illegally as children — and roll back the Trump administration’s executive orders on immigration.
It’s not only California’s poor and working class who have supported Mr. Sanders; some who may not struggle financially have been moved by the stark inequality they see every day.
“He’s the one who seems like he’s most likely to improve the quality of life for the average person,” said Michael Lussier, 29, who works in real estate.
Mr. Lussier lives in downtown Los Angeles, which has been engulfed by a worsening homeless crisis. “Living so close to all that makes it harder to vote for anyone who will perpetuate the status quo,” he said.