Next week's Democratic primaries to proceed despite coronavirus,
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[March 14, 2020]
By James Oliphant
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Louisiana on Friday
became the first U.S. state to postpone its presidential nominating
contest because of the coronavirus pandemic, while four states holding
their primaries next week said those elections would go forward as
The Southern state said it would reschedule voting in the run-up to the
Nov. 3 election because of the outbreak. Officials there said they would
postpone their scheduled April 4 primary to June 20 "to best protect the
health and safety of Louisiana voters and voting officials," Louisiana
Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said at a news conference.
The four states holding their primaries on Tuesday - Arizona, Florida,
Illinois and Ohio - said in a joint statement they would proceed with
their contests while taking steps to ensure public safety.
"Americans have participated in elections during challenging times in
the past, and, based on the best information we have from public health
officials, we are confident that voters in our states can safely and
securely cast their ballots in this election, and that otherwise healthy
poll workers can and should carry out their patriotic duties on
Tuesday," election officials from the four states said.
"We're definitely voting. They voted during the Civil War. We're gonna
vote," Florida Governor Ron DeSantis told reporters on Friday.
Louisiana's move poses a problem for the Democratic Party, which
mandates all nominating contests must be held by early June or states
risk losing delegates to the party convention in July.
Kristen Clarke, the president of the voting rights group Lawyers'
Committee For Civil Rights Under Law, said the state should have pursued
other options, like expanding early and absentee voting.
"The chose the most extreme, drastic option, Clarke said.
Democratic front-runner Joe Biden's campaign urged states to hold votes
"As election officials working with public health officials are
demonstrating throughout the country, our elections can be conducted
safely in consultation with public health officials," said Kate
Bedingfield, Biden's deputy campaign manager.
OFF THE TRAIL
Biden and Democratic rival Bernie Sanders, both seeking to challenge
Republican President Donald Trump, have taken themselves off the
campaign trail for the time being while searching for new, creative ways
to connect with voters.
Biden's attempt to connect with voters via a virtual town hall on Friday
was plagued by early technical glitches that delayed its start and made
most of his early remarks impossible to understand. The event provided
the first glimpse into the challenges of running a virtual campaign.
[to top of second column]
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe
Biden speaks during a primary night speech at The National
Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., March 10,
2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
He used his opening remarks to discuss his plan for tackling the
coronavirus crisis and pleading for citizens to listen to public
health officials and wash their hands.
He then turned to virtual attendees for questions and comments. The
first person said, "Mr. Biden's speech was garbled the entire time."
The coronavirus has so far killed at least 40 people and sickened
more than 1,600 across the United States, forcing schools to close,
professional sports leagues to suspend or end their seasons, and
many employees to work from home.
On Thursday, both Biden and Sanders called for a more aggressive
response from Trump and the U.S. government.
Biden's Friday town hall is not entirely unprecedented. During
Trump's impeachment trial in January, when senators running for
president were forced to remain in Washington, candidates Amy
Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren held telephone events. Both have
since left the race.
Biden has won over much of the Democratic establishment while
stringing together wins in such states as Michigan, Texas and North
Carolina, giving him a commanding edge in the contest over Sanders.
The four Tuesday contests could put Biden on an unstoppable path
toward nomination at the party's convention.
Biden and Sanders will participate in a nationally televised debate
on Sunday at CNN in Washington, held without a studio audience out
of health concerns, allowing them a final chance to address voters
in those states.
Even without traditional rallies, Biden has financial resources at
his disposal. With new contributions pouring in, Biden's campaign is
running TV ads in Florida, Illinois and Ohio. The campaign has
ramped up spending on Facebook ads.
He also is backed by a super PAC - an independent political action
committee that may raise unlimited sums of money - called Unite the
Country. Another leading Democratic outside group, Priorities USA
Action, said this week it would defend Biden against Trump's
attacks, with the expectation he will be the nominee.
(Reporting by James Oliphant, Amanda Becker, Ginger Gibson, Jarrett
Renshaw and Joey Roulette; Editing by Scott Malone, Howard Goller,
Rosalba O'Brien, Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman)
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