Joe Biden effectively snuffed out Bernie Sanders’ flickering chances of a comeback with commanding wins in three major states on Tuesday, further asserting his dominance over a Democratic nominating contest that’s become overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden blew out Sanders in Florida, the nation’s biggest battleground state, leading by nearly 40 points with most of the vote in. The former vice president similarly beat Sanders in Illinois, which was called a half-hour after polls closed. And he swept the night by winning in Arizona, the final state voting Tuesday after Ohio postponed its primary over safety concerns from the virus.
The lopsided night puts the race effectively out of reach for Sanders; he would need to win several upcoming primary contests by overwhelming numbers to climb back into contention. While the results are certain to increase pressure on Sanders to drop out, he has showed no signs of quitting, and Biden’s team has been sensitive about publicly appearing like they’re trying to push him out.
The uneasy dynamic puts the primary in a strange state of paralysis while the nation grapples with closures of workplaces, schools and businesses to protect from the coronavirus, and the campaign takes a back seat.
“We’ve moved closer to securing the Democratic Party’s nomination for president,” Biden said in an understated and solemn address streamed online from his home in Wilmington, Delaware, where he noted he was following federal guidance against gatherings of more than 10 people.
Biden ticked through the broad base of support that powered him to wins across Florida and Illinois — from African Americans and Latinos to teachers, suburban women, veterans and fire fighters. He offered only praise for Sanders, whom Biden credited with advancing progressive policies.
Biden then made a direct appeal to Sanders’ young and deeply loyal supporters.
“I hear you. I know what is at stake. And I know what we have to do,” Biden said. “Our goal as a campaign, and my goal as a candidate for president, is to unify our party — and to unify our nation.”
There were no bright spots for Sanders on Tuesday: He trailed Biden by around 100 delegates in Florida alone. Edison phone surveys of Illinois showed Biden running up huge numbers with black voters and trouncing Sanders with white voters without college degrees, a group that backed him four years ago. Preliminary vote totals out of the state showed Biden beating Sanders in some college towns where he performed much better in 2016.
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