Bernie Sanders ‘reassessing’ campaign as Biden extends lead

Former vice cements path to Democratic nomination with series of primary wins

Former US vice-president Joe Biden has further cemented his lead in the Democratic presidential nominee race with three more primary wins. Video: Reuters

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US presidential candidate Joe Biden swept to victory in Florida, Illinois and Arizona on Tuesday night, cementing his path to the Democratic nomination as the party chooses its candidate to take on Donald Trump in November’s election.

Mr Biden won the Florida primary by a huge margin, scooping up the majority of the 219 delegates at stake in the state. He also secured wide-margin wins in the rust-belt state of Illinois and further west in Arizona.

Mr Sanders wasreassessing his White House bid after his latest bruising losses to Mr Biden, a senior adviser said on Wednesday, as the campaign suspended its political advertising on Facebook.

“The next primary contest is at least three weeks away. Senator Sanders is going to be having conversations with supporters to assess his campaign,” his campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, said in a statement.

Exit polls suggested that Mr Biden won a high percentage of the African-American vote in Florida, as expected. But he also polled extremely well with white blue collar workers who bolstered Mr Sanders in his run for the Democratic nomination in 2016.

The three states — Florida, Arizona and Illinois — held their primary contests as planned despite the threat of coronavirus. But Ohio postponed its primary until June, generating tensions between the state’s governor and the courts over the decision.

As well as the two front-runners, Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard was also on the ballot in the three states.

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Delayed

Several primaries that had been scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, including in Louisiana and Georgia, have delayed their selection processes by several weeks. The party’s nominee will be chosen at the Democratic National Convention in July in Wisconsin, though the deepening coronavirus crisis has thrown the trajectory of the primary cycle into question.

Mr Biden’s strong performance on Tuesday follows his victory in five of the six states that voted a week ago, as well as the vast majority of states on Super Tuesday on March 3rd. While Mr Sanders lost all three states to Hillary Clinton in 2016, his margin of defeat against Mr Biden was greater on Tuesday.

The former vice-president has now established what appears to be an insurmountable lead over Mr Sanders, who failed to capitalise on his wins in the early voting states in February.

Mr Biden’s latest wins have given him a lead over Mr Sanders of 971 to 737 delegates to the convention in July, according to Edison Research. A candidate needs 1,991 delegates to clinch the nomination.

Addressing supporters on Tuesday night from Wilmington, Delaware, via a livestream feed and wearing a green tie to mark St Patrick’s Day, Mr Biden’s focused on coronavirus in much of his speech.

“Tackling this pandemic is a national emergency, akin to fighting a war,” he said. “This is a moment when we need our leaders to lead.”

“The coronavirus does not care if you are a Democrat or a Republican,” he said, it will “touch people in positions of power as well as the most vulnerable in society. We’re all in this together”.

He also attempted to reach out to younger voters who have tended to back Mr Sanders in the Democratic primaries so far. “I hear you, I know what’s at stake. I know what we have to do. Our goal as a campaign and my goal as a candidate for president is to unify this party and unify this nation.”

Pandemic

Despite the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic, which has started to impact on daily life in America, turnout in Florida appeared to be higher than in 2016, though this may have reflected the large number of postal and early voting. The total number of people who voted in Illinois was much lower than in 2016, reflecting the fact that fewer voters voted early.

In the last debate before Tuesday’s primary contests, both Mr Biden and Mr Sanders said they would support the other, whoever became the party’s candidate.

Mr Biden also pledged to choose a woman as his running-mate if he is selected as the party’s nominee, and reiterated his pledge to appoint the first black woman to the supreme court, saying it was “long overdue”.

Mr Biden’s public commitment prompted immediate speculation as to who his choice would be. Senators Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar – who both ran for the party’s nomination but have since endorsed Mr Biden – and Georgia’s former governor Stacey Abrams were among the names that have been mentioned.

Michigan’s governor Gretchen Whitmer, a high-profile endorser of Mr Biden, whose support may have helped him to his decisive victory in the state’s primary last Tuesday ruled herself out in an interview with MSNBC. “It’s not going to be me,” she said.