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Jason Palmer beats Biden in American Samoa, and looks to Northern Mariana Islands

Jason Palmer, a relatively unknown Democratic presidential candidate, won the Democratic primary in American Samoa. He's seen here in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais
/
AP
Jason Palmer, a relatively unknown Democratic presidential candidate, won the Democratic primary in American Samoa. He's seen here in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

Updated March 6, 2024 at 5:30 PM ET

President Biden's bid to sweep the Super Tuesday primaries was undone by an unlikely challenger, far from the U.S. mainland. Jason Palmer, an under-the-radar candidate, edged Biden by just 11 votes in American Samoa, netting 51 ballots to the president's 40.

Palmer's campaign says American Samoa isn't the only place he's been campaigning in the Pacific.

"Elections are going on in Northern Mariana Islands," where Palmer is also on the ballot, Mario Arias, Palmer's campaign manager, told NPR. "So, we're excited for the elections there," which run through March 12.

Palmer's surprise win doesn't endanger Biden's run for the Democratic nomination, but it did put a sudden spotlight on Palmer, a Baltimore, Md., entrepreneur who has worked primarily in technology and education.

"Biden's chances of a second term are hurting, but not because of my campaign," Palmer says on his campaign's website, citing opinion polls that depict the public's desire for other options.

"I know I'm a longshot candidate with very little chance of winning" against an incumbent president, he says on the site. But Palmer also says he is challenging Biden in the Democratic primary because he doesn't want to risk possibly helping former President Donald Trump in November.

"This is the most important election of the 21st century, and it is extremely important to keep Trump from returning to office for a second term," he says.

But for a day at least, Palmer can bask in an unexpected win.

"Honored to announce my victory in the American Samoa presidential primary," the candidate said in a post on X. "Thank you to the incredible community for your support. This win is a testament to the power of our voices. Together, we can rebuild the American Dream and shape a brighter future for all."

How did Palmer win in American Samoa?

Palmer's campaign focused on American Samoa, where, according to the Department of the Interior, residents are deemed U.S. nationals rather than U.S. citizens.

"Residents of the Territories cannot participate in [the] General Election, so there is still a big awareness gap in our community regarding our Presidential primaries," American Samoa Democratic Party Chairman Patrick Ti'a Reid told NPR. "When Presidential campaigns invest in the Territory, it is also a means of promoting the Presidential primaries or caucuses."

The small chain of islands is where another wealthy Democrat, Michael Bloomberg, notched the only outright win of his 2020 presidential campaign.

Palmer didn't visit the unincorporated U.S. territory that is home to more than 43,000 people and sits between Hawaii and New Zealand. Instead, he appeared to voters via Zoom — and impressed attendees by introducing himself in the Samoan language, according to local news site Talanei.

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The territory's Democratic Party held its caucus Tuesday in Tafuna, the territory's most populous village, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The result gives Palmer and Biden three delegates each.

"The American Samoa Democratic Party had first announced that with the vote count, Palmer will receive four delegates at the National Democratic Convention while Biden gets two," the Talanei site reported. "However it later issued a correction on the delegate count saying that Palmer and Biden will each get three delegates."

Who is Jason Palmer?

Palmer, 52, is a Quaker who has worked as an executive and board member and at an investment firm called New Markets Venture Partners. His website highlights stints with Microsoft and Kaplan Education, and as deputy director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Palmer attended the University of Virginia and then earned an MBA from Harvard Business School, according to his campaign.

Palmer isn't the only Democrat challenging Biden; the race also includes Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota — who conceded defeat on Tuesday.

"Congratulations to Joe Biden, Uncommitted, Marianne Williamson, and Nikki Haley for demonstrating more appeal to Democratic Party loyalists than me," Phillips said in a tweet.

Hours later, he added a follow-up: "And, Jason Palmer."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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