WASHINGTON, March 17, 2020 — Former Vice President Joe Biden continued to barrel toward the Democratic nomination Tuesday as several states went to the polls under the cloud of the coronavirus. Biden easily won in Florida and Illinois, with networks calling the races shortly after polls closed. As of 10:30 p.m. ET, Arizona was still too early to call. Ohio, which was scheduled to hold its primary on Tuesday, pushed its in-person contest to June 2.
By late Tuesday night, Biden increased his total delegate lead to 1,121, with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) earning 839. Arizona’s vote was still being tabulated, though Biden was well ahead in pre-election day polls. Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of the University of Virginia newsletter Sabato’s Crystal Ball, characterized the state of the race succinctly late Tuesday night.
“Sanders has no practical path to overtaking Biden for the delegate lead in the primary season.”
As COVID-19 spreads throughout the country, grinding public life in the U.S. to a halt, the presidential campaign has been in something of a state of suspension. Biden, speaking from his home in Wilmington, Delaware in front of a black curtain and two American flags, spent most of his live-streamed remarks focused on the pandemic, thanking health workers and reassuring the public.
He eventually turned to the election, trumpeting “a very good night” as results continued to stream in. He also made a point to address Sanders’ younger supporters, the Vermont senator’s strongest cohort, directly.
“I hear you,” Biden said. “I know what’s at stake. I know what we have to do. Our goal as a campaign and my goal as a candidate for president is to unify this party, then to unify the nation.”
In Florida, where many voters voted early and by mail rather than showing up to polling places on Election Day, Biden won in a landslide, with 62% to Sanders’ 23% with 98% of precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press. Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, the state shifted polling places away from nursing homes and assisted living centers, and yet more polling locations were closed due to a lack of polling staff and other glitches.
In 2016, Sanders won nine counties in Florida. This time around, Biden swept the state.
According to a poll of primary voters, Biden dominated Florida with constituencies that have formed the core of his candidacy, including African-American voters, voters over 45 and moderate and conservative Democrats. Illinois was a less instantaneous call, but the former Vice President scooped up that prize as well by about 59 percent to Sanders’ 36.
According to preliminary breakdowns by CNN, Biden won 70 percent support from black voters in the state, continuing to flex the strength he has displayed most overwhelmingly in southern primaries. He also won white voters, and showed his usual dominance with middle-aged and older groups.
In 2016, the Illinois primary was a very different story. Hillary Clinton only barely squeaked by the challenge mounted by Sanders, winning 50.6 percent to his 48.6 percent. In one example of how things have changed, Biden won McHenry County by 20 points Tuesday night, after Sanders took it by nearly the same margin four years ago.
In a clear indication of coronavirus outbreak ramifications, turnout in the state seemed well down from 2016, as voters balked at casting their ballots in person. Those numbers may serve as vindication for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R), who threw his state into turmoil with an 11th-hour effort to postpone the primary.
In Arizona, where voting ended at 10 p.m. ET, results were not yet tallied, though Biden was favored to do well, according to polling averages ahead of primary day.
Not to say that was the day’s biggest story in the Grand Canyon State: Midday Tuesday, as voters crowded polling locations, the mayor of Arizona’s capital and economic center, Phoenix, declared a state of emergency requiring the closure of all bars and the transition of all restaurants to take-out only.
“We are doing this to keep our community safe,” Mayor Kate Gallego said.