Biden on cusp of insurmountable lead after sweeping three states

Biden on cusp of insurmountable lead after sweeping three states
© Greg Nash

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenCDC working to tighten testing requirement for international travelers On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Manchin seeks 'adjustments' to spending plan MORE swept the primaries in Florida, Illinois and Arizona on Tuesday, putting him on track to secure an insurmountable delegate lead in the Democratic nominating contest and virtually shutting out Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOn The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Pence-linked group launches 0K ad campaign in West Virginia praising Manchin Senators huddle on path forward for SALT deduction in spending bill MORE’s (I-Vt.) chances of a comeback.

Going into Tuesday night, Biden was already in command of the Democratic presidential race after running up the score against Sanders on Super Tuesday and in a handful of primaries last week. But with his victories in all three states, there remains little doubt that he will be the nominee.

The biggest question looming over the Tuesday primaries in Florida, Illinois and Arizona is just how big of a delegate haul Biden will take.

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Some 441 delegates are up for grabs between the three states on a night when the country was gripped by coronavirus fears.

In a livestreamed speech on Tuesday night following his wins in Florida and Illinois, Biden was subdued, dedicating the bulk of his remarks to addressing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. He thanked state officials and poll workers for their efforts in Tuesday’s primaries before discussing his victories.

“Today, it looks like once again, in Florida and Illinois — we’re still waiting to hear from Arizona — our campaign has had a very good night,” he said. 

Sanders lost Florida, Illinois and Arizona during his 2016 primary bid against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCountering the ongoing Republican delusion Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Poll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future MORE, and his aides were largely expecting a repeat on Tuesday.

Still, he is up against overwhelming odds if he hopes to catch Biden in the delegate race, and he’s likely to face intense questions in the coming days about his future in the race and whether he should continue his campaign amid likely pressure to help unite Democrats in their goal of defeating President TrumpDonald TrumpOmar, Muslim Democrats decry Islamophobia amid death threats On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Trump cheers CNN's Cuomo suspension MORE.

Sanders is not mathematically eliminated from the race yet, but he has virtually no chance of heading into the Democratic National Convention in July with a delegate majority.

At the same time, Sanders’s loss in Florida was even more pronounced than it was in 2016. Biden was on track to carry every one of the state’s 67 counties, including several that Sanders won four years ago.

With the Democratic nomination within reach, Biden now faces the task of unifying the Democratic Party’s moderate and progressive factions. That includes reaching out to Sanders’s backers, including the young voters who overwhelmingly support the Vermont senator.

In his remarks on Tuesday, Biden sought to address the intraparty divide, saying that while he and Sanders “may disagree on tactic,” they “share a common vision.” 

He thanked Sanders for his “passion” and “tenacity” in addressing issues such as health care, income inequality and climate change. He then made a direct appeal to the Vermont senator's supporters.

“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,” he said. “Our goal as a campaign and my goal as a candidate for president is to unify this party and then to unify the nation.”

Sanders was mum on the primary results on Tuesday, but his next steps in the race remain unclear.

In Florida, where 219 delegates are up for grabs, Biden leads Sanders by nearly 40 percentage points, or nearly 670,000 votes. He was the heavy favorite heading into the primary, with polls showing him crushing his progressive rival by massive margins that in some cases exceeded 50 points.

With 86 percent of precincts reporting in Illinois, Biden held a roughly 23-point lead over Sanders. And in Arizona, early results showed the former vice president with a roughly 13-point advantage. 

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Biden’s wins in Florida, Illinois and Arizona mark the third consecutive week in which the former vice president has trounced Sanders.

The primaries on Tuesday also came in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. One other state that was slated to vote on Tuesday, Ohio, postponed its nominating contest late Monday night amid concerns over the outbreak.

While voting continued as scheduled in three states, it was not without drama.

In Florida, officials scrambled to notify voters of polling site changes and closures and hundreds of precinct workers backed out. In Illinois, equipment delays led to long lines at other polling stations. And in Arizona, officials moved to reduce the number of polling sites in Maricopa County to ensure that they would have adequate cleaning supplies and staff available.

Government and party officials in the three states touted high early and mail-in voting numbers, hoping that they would offset expectedly low primary day turnout.

Tuesday’s primaries will be the last for at least two weeks. Georgia was slated to hold its nominating contest on March 24, but postponed it until May 19 amid concerns about the pandemic and the role that an election could play in spreading the disease. Still, Biden is the heavy favorite to win the Peach State.

Updated at 11:36 EDT