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Amid growing restrictions over the global coronavirus outbreak, Joe Biden racked up primary wins over Bernie Sanders in Arizona, Florida and Illinois on Tuesday, making his delegate lead for the Democratic presidential nomination all but insurmountable before the party’s scheduled convention in July.
As polls closed at 8 p.m. ET in Florida, the former vice president was declared the winner by the Associated Press. Ahead by nearly 40 points with 77 percent of the votes counted in a state that awards 219 delegates proportionally, Biden was sure to pad his overall delegate lead over Sanders, the senator from Vermont.
Biden was also declared the winner in Illinois, a state that awards 101 delegates, some 30 minutes later.
Addressing the nation in a somber tone, given the severity of the the coronavirus outbreak, Biden spoke from his home in Delaware and took pains to avoid celebrating his victories in a way that was out of sync with the moment facing the country.
“Today, it looks like once again, in Florida and Illinois — we’re still awaiting to hear from Arizona — our campaign has had a very good night,” Biden said. “We’ve moved closer to securing the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, and we’re doing it by building a broad coalition that we need to win in November.”
Biden also reached out to supporters of Sanders, saying that he and the senator from Vermont “share a common vision” on issues like providing affordable healthcare and “tackling the existential threat of our time, climate change.”
“Sen. Sanders and his supporters have brought a remarkable passion and tenacity to all of these issues. Together, they have shifted the fundamental conversation in this country,” Biden said. “So let me say, especially to the young voters who have been inspired by Sen. Sanders: I hear you. I know what’s at stake. I know what we have to do.”
Hours after Biden spoke, the AP declared him the winner in Arizona, giving him a clean sweep in the states that cast in-person votes on Tuesday. With those impressive wins, Biden built on his delegate lead to the point where Sanders now has no real chance of catching him.
As Biden continued his march toward the Democratic nomination, President Trump won enough delegates in the Illinois Republican primary to secure the GOP presidential nomination, the AP projected.
Rather than give a speech about the election results, Sanders held a live stream on the coronavirus outbreak before the polls in Florida and Illinois had closed. He detailed proposals — including mobilizing the U.S. Army and National Guard to construct makeshift hospitals and providing funds for workers who lose their employment — for what he said would need to be a massive government effort to counter the pandemic and its economic fallout.
“This will require an unprecedented amount of money, and my own guess is that we’ll be spending at least $2 trillion in funding to prevent deaths, job losses and to avoid an economic catastrophe,” Sanders said.
He also said he would introduce his suggestions to the Democratic leadership in the coming days and directed his viewers to read about them further on his website. Not once during his remarks did Sanders mention Tuesday’s primaries or the state of the Democratic presidential race.
“We can address this crisis, and we can minimize the pain,” Sanders said.
Thanks to the rapid spread of the coronavirus, Ohio postponed its elections until June 2, and cast a shadow of uncertainty over the status of future in-person primary voting. Its Republican governor, Mike DeWine, who has taken the lead on school closures and social distancing measures, announced Monday that he was recommending that Ohio delay in-person voting in the primary.
“We cannot conduct this election tomorrow,” he said.
As of Tuesday morning, Ohio had reported 67 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus pathogen. Florida had reported 160 cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday, and four deaths. Illinois had tallied 105 cases and Arizona had reported another 18. The rapid rise in the spread of the coronavirus in the United States has mirrored the curve experienced in Italy, where more than 27,980 cases have been confirmed and 2,503 people have died.
Hours before residents in Illinois, Florida and Arizona headed to the polls, despite guidance from the CDC to avoid gatherings of 10 people or more, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said he was leaving the decision on whether to postpone elections up to the state governors.
“Republican and Democratic governors have made that judgment that they can do that. I don’t think it’s for me to second-guess those judgements,” Perez said in an interview with MSNBC.
But two DNC co-chairs sent a memo last week warning that states faced the prospect of penalties for pushing back primaries beyond June 9.
“If a state violates the rule on timing, or any other rule, they could be subject to penalties as prescribed in Rule 21, including at least a 50% reduction in delegates, which will need to be reviewed by the RBC [Rules and Bylaws Committee],” the memo, obtained by the Guardian, stated.
So far, Louisiana is the only state that may run afoul of the DNC, having postponed its April 4 primary until June 20. Georgia, which was scheduled to hold its primary on March 24, has suspended its election until May 19.
While Perez urged voters to “stay safe” Tuesday, he did not discourage them from showing up at polling places. At the same time, however, he said the coronavirus outbreak showed that the nation needed to figure out ways to make sure citizens could cast their votes without traveling to polling places.
This crisis is a stark reminder of the need to expand early voting, vote by mail, and no-excuse absentee voting. We ought to be making it easier for folks to vote — especially in situations like this — not harder.
— Tom Perez (@TomPerez) March 17, 2020
In his remarks from Delaware, Biden thanked those who had turned out to support him, as well as those who volunteered to work at the polls.
“Americans in three states went to the polls today. I want to thank all the public officials and the poll workers who worked closely with the public health authorities to assure safe opportunities for voting, to clean and disinfect voting booths, and to make sure the voters can cast their ballots, while maintaining a distance from one another that was safe,” Biden said.
Puerto Rico is scheduled to hold the next Democratic primary, on March 29. On April 4, Hawaii, Alaska and Wyoming are set to have their primaries.
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