Former Vice President Joe Biden swept three states holding Democratic presidential primaries Tuesday, carving out an almost certain path to the party’s nomination after winning in Arizona, Florida and Illinois. Ohio was also on the primary election calendar, but took the extraordinary step of canceling in-person voting on the eve of election day amid rising fears about the new coronavirus. Some polls in the states that went ahead with voting were in disarray.
Biden went into Tuesday heavily favored to defeat Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders in all three states voting. Sanders vowed last week to stay in the race as long as he had a path to the nomination, but that seemed almost impossible after what Biden called a “big day” for his campaign.
Shortly before polls closed in Arizona, Biden spoke from his home city of Wilmington, Delaware, two U.S. flags behind him but no crowd in front or to his side in keeping with guidance for all Americans to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.
“This is a moment when we need our leaders to lead,” he said, “but it’s also a moment when the choices and decisions we as individuals make are going to collectively impact what happens and make a big difference on the severity of this outbreak and the ability of our medical and hospital system to handle it.”
Later Biden made an appeal to millennials, a segment of the vote he has failed to attract in large numbers even in resounding victories.
Let me say especially to the young voters who have been inspired by Senator Sanders,” Biden said. “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 then to unify the nation.”
Sanders also spoke Tuesday night, calling the escalating coronavirus crisis an “unprecedented moment” and laying out the framework of a coronavirus policy he said would require at least $2 trillion in funding. Plans included activating the military to build mobile hospitals and testing facilities, a $2,000 cash payment to every U.S. household, moratoriums on evictions and utility shut-offs, and unemployment assistance for anyone who loses their job in the economic upheaval associated with the coronavirus.
He also made a renewed pitch for his signature “Medicare for all” proposal, and said Medicare should pay for all medical bills during the coronavirus crisis.
“What I believe we must do is empower Medicare to cover all medical bills during this emergency,” he said. But he also stressed that “this is not Medicare for all. We can’t pass that right now.”
Sanders did not talk about his chances of winning the nomination in his remarks, made before many polls closed.
The three states voting Tuesday had a combined 441 pledged delegates at stake. Florida’s 219 pledged delegates are the big prize, and Illinois and Arizona have 155 and 67 delegates, respectively. Ohio would have added 136 delegates to the mix had it not cancelled in-person voting as states nationwide buckle down to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
Tuesday’s primaries could be Sanders’ last stand in what is essentially a two-person race for the party’s presidential nomination. Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard was also on the ballot, but trails Biden and Sanders in delegates. Going into Tuesday’s voting, Biden was leading Sanders in pledged delegates, 894-743.
Biden chipped away Tuesday at Sanders’ coalition of young, liberal and Latino voters in Florida and Illinois who said they trusted the former vice president more than the Vermont senator on health care issues and among those who think he could successfully challenge President Donald Trump in November, according to Associated Press VoteCast surveys of thousands of Americans voting in the presidential primaries.
Biden, 77, preserved his strength among African Americans in Florida and Illinois. He also won women, voters over 45 and moderates and conservatives, groups that make up majorities of Democratic primary voters.
It was close to a demographic sweep, with Biden also drawing support from the cities, suburbs and small towns; Protestants, Catholics and Jews; and voters with a college degree and those without. In Florida, he even won liberals, getting 53 percent to Sanders’ 37 percent.
Young voters stand out as still somewhat wary of Biden. Sanders, 78, maintained a modest edge among young voters in Florida, where about half of those under 30 supported him.
Sanders got about two-thirds of those voters in Illinois. But voters 30 through 44 there split between him and Biden.
The problems reported Tuesday at polls in Illinois and Florida, as well as Ohio’s cancellation, prompted Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez to ask states with upcoming presidential primaries to use vote-by-mail and other measures to make it safe for people to vote. Perez was critical of Ohio officials for postponing in-person voting on the eve of voting, saying the decision “has only bred more chaos and confusion.”
Biden, whose once-flagging campaign was resuscitated in South Carolina and on Super Tuesday, was leading in averages on Real Clear Politics as voting began Tuesday. Those polls showed the former vice president with a 39-point lead in Florida, a 29-point lead in Illinois and a 17-point lead in Arizona.
Florida Presidential Primary Voters Head To Polls
Illinois Democratic Primary: Biden Vs. Sanders
Coronavirus Affects Some Arizona Democratic Primary Polls
Ohio Coronavirus Health Emergency Closes Polls Statewide
Illinois’ primary was jolted Tuesday as election officials scrambled to find alternative polling places after nursing homes and other places were people typically vote pulled out. About 200 precincts didn’t open in Illinois at the start of voting, and a “tsunami” of election judges canceled plans to work the primary over fear of the coronavirus spread, officials said.
Voters — and some poll workers — were calling the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Tuesday to find polling locations. Timna Axel, the organization’s communications director, told The Associated Press the volume of phone calls was “unusual for a primary.”
“We all understand that these are really unusual circumstances and we all want eligible voters not to be disenfranchised,” Axel said. “We’re going to need to work together to make sure they can actually cast a ballot today.”
Election officials last week asked Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker to postpone Tuesday’s election, allow vote by mail only or come up with some other option in light of the coronavirus spread. But Pritzker refused, leaving state election officials “in a Catch-22,” Chicago Election Board spokesman Jim Allen said Monday.
“We are under orders to conduct an election. End of story. Period,” Allen said. “If we say anything now to raise doubts about whether tomorrow is election day, we stand accused of violation of the law, undermining turnout and discouraging voters from exercising their right to vote …. This is not our call.”
Some polling places in Florida didn’t open on time after workers didn’t show up. About 800 poll workers had backed out Monday. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he’s confident the election can be safely run.
Two dozen poll workers didn’t show up in Okaloosa and Elections Supervisor Paul Lux scrambled to train replacements.
“We are at the honest end of the rope,” Lux told The Associated Press.
Some voters chose to stay home on election day.
Broward County, Florida, telecommunications engineer Jonathan Castoire, who has multiple sclerosis, told The Associated Press it feels as if he had been given an “ultimatum” to choose between protecting his health and voting.
“That’s not right,” said
Castoire, whose voting station is at a senior center, thought it would be too dangerous for him to vote in person, so he opted to stay home.
In Arizona’s Maricopa County, the state’s most populous and where Phoenix is located, election officials reduced the number of voting centers by 80 after locations and poll workers canceled over coronavirus fears. More than 150 polling locations remained open in Maricopa County, and voters were allowed to vote at any voting center they wanted, even if it wasn’t their assigned polling location.
Public health officials ordered all Ohio polling locations closed Tuesday under a “health emergency” after a court blocked Gov. Mike DeWine’s lawsuit to delay the election.
“During this time when we face an unprecedented public health crisis, to conduct an election tomorrow would would force poll workers and voters to place themselves at an unacceptable health risk of contracting coronavirus,” DeWine said in a statement.
Not everyone got the news the Ohio primary is postponed. Brian Anaya, a certified public accountant, went to his polling place Tuesday morning only to learn the election had been called off. He told The Columbus Dispatch he knew a judge had ruled against the governor’s request to postpone the primary, but not that health officials had in effect overridden the judge by ordering polls closed under a health emergency.
“I guess I understand,” Anaya told The Dispatch. “Everything’s fluid. It’s changing daily.”
He told the newspaper his wife had been nervous about voting in person, especially as the federal Centers for Disease Control tightens recommendations on social distancing, which include maintaining at least 6 feet of distance from others, avoiding large crowds and limiting social gatherings to 10 or few people.
Sanders needs to notch some wins Tuesday, but he was mindful of the CDC recommendations in a Tweet urging voters to follow the CDC’s recommendations if they decide to vote in person.
Sanders tweeted that “going to the polls amid the coronavirus is a personal decision and we respect whichever choice voters make.”
In his statement Tuesday, Perez of the Democratic National Committee said states with upcoming primaries that already have mail voting should “proactively mail ballots to registered voters, where feasible, and should count all ballots … postmarked by the date of the primary.”
He also suggested expanding days and hours of early, in person voting and expanding absentee voting to all registered voters. Some state laws allow absentee voting for a limited number of reasons.