Democrats grow nervous over primary delays
Democrats are increasingly nervous about the coronavirus pandemic upending the Democratic primary calendar.
As more and more states postpone their primaries — delaying their elections as far back as June — some Democrats say that it will make the job of defeating President Trump more difficult.
“I think there’s a desire for closure to the primaries and getting on with the business of beating Donald Trump,” said Addisu Demissie, who served as campaign manager on Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) presidential campaign.
Former Vice President Joe Biden holds a big delegate lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and is widely seen as the inevitable Democratic nominee. But it could still take a number of contests for Biden to win enough delegates to clinch the nomination, and the scheduling delays would only push that back further.
That could hamper Biden’s candidacy, say Demissie and other observers.
“In theory, the Biden campaign could spend the next seven months with a singular focus instead of keeping one eye on a primary opponent whose chances of victory are virtually zero,” Demissie said.
Biden finds himself in a delicate situation as he tries to pivot to the general election. As he transitions, he doesn’t want to alienate Sanders supporters for fear they won’t show up in November.
“I think the concern is that as long as the primaries are active, Biden must be seen and must actually not be dismissive of Sanders, lest the Sanders die hards turn against him in the fall,” Demissie added. “So it’s forcing the Biden team to walk a tightrope across a canyon when the bridge is right there.”
Ohio postponed its primary a day before voters were to go to the polls on March 17, pushing it to June 2. Other states like Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana and Georgia have also postponed their primaries, some as far as late June.
Tensions are running high because of the virus and the toll it could take on the general election campaign.
Biden has had to eliminate large campaign events and fundraisers. Instead, his campaign has increasingly gone virtual, where he holds tele-town halls and online fundraising events.
“It would be hard to divorce the anxiety associated with the coronavirus outbreak from the anxiety some Democrats are feeling about the need to settle on a nominee,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “For practical reasons, Democrats would like to get on with the business of uniting behind a candidate to streamline fundraising and grassroots operations and create a big tent message that allows the best opportunity to beat Donald Trump in November.”
Speaking to reporters on a conference call this week, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) also expressed concern after his state postponed its primary this week.
Brown said he was worried about what it might mean for the general election in November.
“My concern is that in the age of Trump that governors might think, or that the president might ask, for a delay in the November election based on something, perhaps this, perhaps something else,” the senator said, according to The Columbus Dispatch. “We can’t let this be a precedent. I’m hopeful the governor and legislature will come together and do this earlier.”
The Democratic National Committee this week asked states not to reschedule their primaries but instead implement a vote-by-mail system.
“States can provide easy access to voting while still taking necessary precautions to protect the health and safety of the American people,” DNC Chairman Tom Perez said in a statement.
Allies to Sanders say they intend to stay in the primary at least for the foreseeable future.
Asked this week by CNN reporter Manu Raju if he has a time frame for his decision on whether to stay in the race, Sanders responded, “I’m dealing with a f—— global crisis.”
“Right now I’m trying to do my best to make sure that we don’t have an economic meltdown and that people don’t die. Is that enough for you to keep me busy for today?” he said.
Larry Cohen, the chairman of Our Revolution, the organization that spun out of Sanders’s 2016 presidential run, said he’s supportive of the vote by mail system.
“Delegates do matter even if Biden remains on a path to 1,991 [delegates],” Cohen said.
“Delegates determine the platform rules of the party going forward. They also help determine state leadership,” he continued, adding that it’s “often overlooked.”
Philippe Reines, a longtime adviser to Hillary Clinton, said whether Sanders suspends his campaign or not, all states need to vote and states need time to finalize and award delegates by July 13. If not, Reines said, there’s a problem.
“As long as [the primaries] are conducted, counted, and finalized in time to be counted for the convention, okay,” Reines said. “If they’re not, the DNC can just remove them from the total count, thereby lowering the ‘denominator’ and lowering the majority needed.”
“Anything is doable so long as no group yells that their candidate had more time,” he said.