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Joe Biden set to lock in lead even with Ohio polls closed

Bloomberg Washington | Updated on March 17, 2020 Published on March 17, 2020

A file photo of Democratic US presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden   -  Reuters

Narrow victories by Joe Biden in Tuesday’s primaries would effectively end the Democratic presidential nomination fight, making it nearly impossible for Bernie Sanders to capture the delegates needed.

Three states, Arizona, Florida and Illinois will hold votes on Tuesday, despite concerns about voters and poll workers becoming infected with the coronavirus. Ohio was scheduled to have a primary as well, but back-and-forth court action on Monday ended with the voting being delayed.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine had asked a court to delay his State’s primary to June 2, and two people in their 60s sued, saying they should not have to choose between their health and voting. But Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Richard Frye said it that would be a terrible precedent for a court to step in at the last minute to rewrite the election code.

Within hours, DeWine said the state health director, Amy Acton, would order the polls closed as a health emergency. He said the Secretary of State Frank LaRose would work to extend voting options so that every voter who wants to vote will be granted that opportunity.

Biden was heavily favoured in all four States, as well as the remaining major contests in the spring, a continuation of his sweep of the contests since South Carolina that has put him on a glide path to the nomination.

DeWine sought the delay because, he said, to conduct an election tomorrow would force poll workers and voters to place themselves at an unacceptable health risk of contracting coronavirus.

It was just the latest twist in a dramatic and unpredictable primary battle that has now been transformed into a quarantined campaign — even as Sunday’s debate showed an ideological rift remains between the two top contenders.

Biden’s big lead

The three states voting Tuesday will award a total of 441 delegates, making it the third-biggest delegate haul on the primary calendar and a tipping point in the nomination contest.

Biden has a lead of 152 delegates over Sanders. After Tuesday, the former vice president will have a majority of the delegates awarded so far and more than half of the 1,991 needed to win the nomination outright.

The question for Sanders is whether to keep his campaign going. For Biden’s allies, staying in would only make it harder to create the unity the Democratic Party will need to defeat President Donald Trump in November.

“What we cant do is get into a process that makes it more likely that Donald Trump is re-elected,” said Representative Cedric Richmond of Louisiana in a phone call with reporters arranged by the Biden campaign. “There are going to have to be hard decisions that are made after the next couple of primaries.”

Winning the ideological struggle, says Sanders

Sanders conceded in Sunday’s debate that he is losing the delegate race, but insisted he is winning the policy arguments.

“Joe has won more states than I have. But here’s what we are winning. We are winning the ideological struggle,” the Vermont senator said, citing exit polls showing a majority of Democrats favour his Medicare-for-All health care plan. Sanders argues that the coronavirus pandemic makes his government-run health insurance plan even more essential.

But the public health crisis could also work to Biden’s advantage, as Democratic voters seek his experience as vice president over Sanders’ promise of a political revolution.

“If people were in a position where they were willing to take a risk, Bernie could have some appeal,” said former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, who has endorsed Biden. “But I think what they want now is reassurance, and they want someone who is experienced, someone who is mature.”

 

After two weeks of multi-state primaries in which he split wins with Sanders, Biden owns every state in Tuesday’s contests according to polls. He leads by 20.5 percentage points in Arizona, 42.8 points in Florida, 29.5 points in Illinois and was leading 22.5 points in Ohio, according to the RealClearPolitics averages.

Governors in all four states have declared states of emergency because of the coronavirus pandemic, limiting some public events and closing schools.

State election officials in Arizona, Florida and Illinois say they can conduct in-person voting safely, but some polling places in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are being moved and the states are experiencing a shortage of poll workers, who are often retirees.

Who will turn out?

The coronavirus could affect the generation gap among supporters for Biden and Sanders. Older voters favour Biden, but their increased vulnerability to the virus could suppress their voting, which would favour Sanders a little.

Conversely, so many universities and colleges have cancelled classes that many of the young people who back Sanders may not be living where they are registered at the time it comes to vote, suppressing support for Sanders.

“If you had asked me before this coronavirus scare, I would say Joe Biden would win in a landslide, but right now its hard to tell,” said Tara Samples, an Akron City councilwoman and co-chairwoman of the Sanders campaign in Ohio. “I think its going to be a lot closer than what people think.”

Sanders suggested to CNN on Sunday that States should consider postponing the primaries, as Louisiana and Georgia have. “I would hope governors would listen to the public health experts,” he said. On Monday, Kentucky put off its primary, from May 19 to June 23.

Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii also remains in the race but has been receiving less than 2 per cent of the vote.

Published on March 17, 2020
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