AP

With 2 more victories, Biden pulls further away from Sanders

Mar 17, 2020, 8:10 PM
Former Vice President Joe Biden, participates in a Democratic presidential primary debate at CNN St...
Former Vice President Joe Biden, participates in a Democratic presidential primary debate at CNN Studios in Washington, Sunday, March 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Joe Biden swept to easy victories in Florida and Illinois on Tuesday, increasingly pulling away with a Democratic presidential primary upended by coronavirus and building pressure on Bernie Sanders to abandon his campaign.

The former vice president’s third big night in as many weeks came amid tremendous uncertainty confronting the Democratic contest as it collides with efforts to slow the spread of the virus that have shut down large swaths of American life. Polls were shuttered in Ohio, and although balloting went ahead in Florida, Illinois and Arizona, election workers and voters reported problems.

Biden’s quest for his party’s nomination now seems within reach. He needs less than half of the remaining delegates to become the nominee. The party establishment has increasingly lined up behind him, meanwhile, as the best option in November to try and unseat President Donald Trump.

“Our campaign has had a very good night and is a little closer to securing the Democratic nomination,” Biden said after his latest two primary victories.

Also Tuesday, Trump formally clinched the Republican presidential nomination against minimal opposition — a measure of good if not unexpected news for a White House trying to cope with the public health and economic crisis sparked by the coronavirus.

Results aside, the Democratic primary has remained largely in limbo, with rallies and big events canceled. That has given Sanders, whose pathway to the nomination has greatly narrowed, even less room to maneuver, unable to convene the large crowds across the country that are his trademark.

Some Democrats are now calling on him to leave the race in the name of party unity. But Sanders made no mention of that Tuesday night in a livestream to supporters. The Vermont senator has instead promoted calls for universal, government-funded health care under his signature “Medicare for All” plan. Top advisers say he’s betting that the national political landscape could look different as the virus continues to reshape life across the country.

During the coronavirus outbreak, “We must make sure everyone who has a job right now receives the paychecks they need,” Sanders said in an online appearance that started before Tuesday’s polls had even closed.

Biden maintained the strength with African Americans and older voters that has been the hallmark of his campaign but also appeared to chip away at Sanders’ previous advantage with Hispanics that helped him win Nevada and California early in the race. In Florida, Latinos were roughly 20% of Democratic primary voters, and they largely sided with Biden, with the former vice president getting the support of 65% of Puerto Rican voters and 56% of Cubans, according to AP VoteCast, a broad survey of voters.

Turnout in Florida’s Democratic primary was higher than it was four years ago, when 1.7 million voters cast ballots. This time, turnout was on pace to approach 2 million. Still, reports of havoc wreaked by the coronavirus dominated the day.

Officials in Ohio took the unprecedented step of closing polls Monday, mere hours before they were set to open, pushing back the state’s primary until June.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez blasted the move for breeding “more chaos and confusion” and sought to head off more states taking similar actions, urging those with upcoming primaries to expand vote-by-mail and absentee balloting, as well as polling station hours.

The fear is that the spread of the coronavirus derails his party’s nomination contest.

“The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy, and we must do everything we can to protect and expand that right instead of bringing our democratic process to a halt,” Perez said in a statement.

The damage, though, may already have been done. Four other states — Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky and Maryland — have already moved to push back their upcoming primaries, and others may yet do so. That has left the Democratic primary calendar empty until March 29, when Puerto Rico is scheduled to go to the polls — but island leaders are working to reschedule balloting there, too.

That means, there is nowhere for Sanders to gain ground on Biden anytime soon, even if he could find a way to mount a sudden surge.

In the meantime, voting Tuesday saw problems pop up across the country. In Okaloosa County in Florida’s Panhandle, two dozen poll workers dropped out, leaving Elections Supervisor Paul Lux’s staff scrambling to train replacements.

“We are at the honest end of the rope,” Lux said.

Political observers say the coronavirus has cast a shadow over the race as debates over policy minutiae have taken a back seat to issues of life and death.

“It’s definitely eerie,” said Jesse Lehrich, a Democratic operative and former Hillary Clinton campaign spokesman who is based in Chicago, who added, “Biden and Sanders are debating the merits of marginally different policies in this little pseudo-reality, while America is consumed by an unprecedented crisis.”

Millions of voters have already participated in some form of early voting. But there were signs on Tuesday that voters — and poll workers — had stayed home.

“People are prioritizing their day-to-day survival right now — so they’re not thinking of voting as a priority,” said Debra Cleaver, the founder of Vote.org.

In Florida, Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Wendy Sartori Link said three polling sites had to be moved and four opened significantly late because workers didn’t show up and hadn’t given notice.

“We probably should have been expecting it more than we were,” she said.

In Illinois, there was a push to relocate about 50 Chicago-area polling places after locations canceled at the last minute.

Jim Allen, a spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, said Tuesday that the board asked Gov. J.B. Pritzker last week to cancel in-person voting, but the governor refused. Pritzker countered that state law doesn’t give him the authority to make the sweeping changes that elections officials wanted.

“Let me tell you this: It is exactly in times like these when the constitutional boundaries of our democracy should be respected above all else. And if people want to criticize me for that, well, go ahead,” the governor said.

There weren’t problems, everywhere, though. Mel Dockens, a 49-year-old small-business owner, voted in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale and said it was a tough choice. But he went for Biden because he thought Sanders’ progressive views might turn off some Democratic voters.

“It’s all about electability,” Dockens said. “It’s not that I don’t trust Bernie Sanders, but I trust (Biden) a little more.”

Today’s Top Stories

AP

TikTok shown on a phone. TikTok is proving influential in poliitics...
DAVID KLEPPER Associated Press

TikTok politics: Candidates turn to it ‘for better or worse’

TikTok isn't just about viral dance challenges anymore, but also a place to shop, learn about beauty, fashion or even politics.
2 days ago
Damage from Hurricane Ian...
ADRIANA GOMEZ-LICON Associated Press

Ian returns to hurricane status, meanwhile floods trap many in Florida

Hours after weakening to a tropical depression while crossing the Florida peninsula, Ian regained hurricane strength Thursday evening after emerging over the Atlantic Ocean.
3 days ago
An uprooted tree, toppled by strong winds from the outer bands of Hurricane Ian, rests in a parking...
CURT ANDERSON Associated Press

Ian makes landfall in southwest Florida as Category 4 storm

About 2.5 million people had been ordered to evacuate the area before the storm hit the coast on Wednesday with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph (241 kph).
4 days ago
The White House to ask for less money to fund border wall...
ACACIA CORONADO and GISELA SALOMON Associated Press

Increase in Venezuelan migration is felt across US

Last month, Venezuelans surpassed Guatemalans and Hondurans to become the second-largest nationality stopped at the U.S. border after Mexicans.
6 days ago
In Iran, protests have led to violent clashes between citizens and security forces. Protesters pict...
The Associated Press

At least 9 killed as Iran protests over woman’s death spread

The scope of Iran's ongoing unrest, the worst in several years, still remains unclear as protesters in more than a dozen cities.
9 days ago
U.S. Capitol pictured. The House just voted on an election law...
MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press

House passes election law overhaul in response to Jan. 6

The bill, which is similar to bipartisan legislation moving through the Senate, would overhaul an arcane 1800s-era statute known as the Electoral Count Act
10 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Young woman receiving laser treatment...
Form Derm Spa

How facial plastic surgery and skincare are joining forces

Facial plastic surgery is not only about looking good but about feeling good too. The medical team at Form Spa are trained to help you reach your aesthetic outcomes through surgery and through skincare and dermatology, too.
large group of friends tohether in a park having fun...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

What differentiates BYU’s MBA program from other MBA programs

Commitment to service is at the heart of BYU’s MBA program, which makes it stand out among other MBA programs across the country.
a worker with a drill in an orange helmet installs a door in the house...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

Home improvement tip: Increase the value of your home by weatherproofing doors

Make sure your home is comfortable before the winter! Seasonal maintenance keeps your home up to date. Read our tips on weatherproofing doors.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
A paper reading IRS, internal revenue service is pictured...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
With 2 more victories, Biden pulls further away from Sanders