Biden aims to shut out Sanders in Democratic primaries amid coronavirus
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[March 17, 2020]
By John Whitesides
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Joe Biden will look
to build on his dominant lead in the Democratic presidential race when
three states cast votes on Tuesday, but Ohio postponed its planned
primary over health concerns amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Biden, the front-runner and former vice president, hopes big victories
in nominating contests in Florida, Illinois and Arizona can help him
amass a nearly unassailable edge over rival Bernie Sanders in the race
to find a challenger to Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3
Biden leads Sanders in opinion polls in all three states.
Ohio also was scheduled to hold a primary on Tuesday, but Governor Mike
DeWine said public health concerns made in-person voting too dangerous
and delayed it until June 2. A county judge blocked his first effort to
postpone the vote, but the state health director ordered the polls shut
as a health emergency.
"During this time when we face an unprecedented public health crisis, to
conduct an election tomorrow would force poll workers and voters to
place themselves at an unacceptable health risk of contracting
coronavirus," DeWine said on Twitter.
Officials in the three other states vowed to press ahead with voting and
assured the public it was safe despite fears about the coronavirus,
which has dramatically altered American life, disrupted campaign
routines and prompted other states to postpone future voting.
On Monday, the White House issued guidelines to avoid gatherings of more
than 10 people and close bars and restaurants. Schools, businesses,
sporting events and concerts have been shuttered across the country,
raising questions about the wisdom of voting during a global pandemic.
But in Florida, Illinois and Arizona, officials said they were taking
precautions such as extending early voting hours and moving polling
places away from assisted-living facilities - even as some scrambled to
find more poll workers to replace those who had backed out.
There were more than 4,300 cases of the respiratory virus across the
United States and 80 deaths as of Monday night.
In Florida, the largest state to vote, with 219 delegates at stake, more
than 1 million people had already cast Democratic ballots by mail or
early in-person voting. In Illinois, nearly 800,000 votes had been cast
by mail or through early voting - a substantial increase from the day
before the 2016 primary.
"We believe that by following guidance from our state and federal health
professionals, voters can vote safely at early voting sites today and at
polling places tomorrow," said Matt Dietrich, a spokesman for the
Illinois Board of Elections.
[to top of second column]
Democratic U.S. presidential candidates former Vice President Joe
Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders debate during the 11th Democratic
candidates debate of the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign, held in
CNN's Washington studios without an audience because of the global
coronavirus pandemic, in Washington, U.S., March 15, 2020.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
"Also, at this point there is no date in the foreseeable future when
we can expect greater safety with any certainty," he added.
The presidential race will enter uncertain territory after Tuesday's
voting. Both Biden and Sanders have dropped off the campaign trail
to help prevent the spread of the virus, and the race could face an
extended hiatus if more states postpone voting.
BIDEN IN CHARGE
Biden has taken command of the contest in the past two weeks,
consolidating Democratic support with a string of decisive primary
wins over Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont and a democratic
socialist with a sweeping agenda to restructure the economy.
Biden's victories in 16 of the last 21 state primaries have given
him a lead of roughly 150 delegates over Sanders in the chase for
the 1,991 delegates needed to win the nomination at July's
There are 441 delegates at stake in Florida, Illinois and Arizona,
and a sweep would make it increasingly unrealistic that Sanders
could catch up.
Sanders has vowed to stay in the race despite Biden's string of
recent wins. He attacked Biden's Senate voting record and leadership
on a range of issues during their first one-on-one debate on Sunday,
held in Washington without an on-site audience to avoid the possible
spread of the virus.
But Sanders could face renewed pressure to end his bid if he loses
badly on Tuesday. Many Democrats do not want a repeat of 2016, when
they believe Sanders' long and bitter primary battle with Hillary
Clinton played a role in her upset loss to Trump.
The next scheduled primary in Georgia on March 24 has been
postponed, along with the April 4 primary in Louisiana, one of four
states scheduled to vote that day, and Kentucky's May 19 primary.
Wyoming, which is also scheduled to vote on April 4, has suspended
in-person voting in favor of ballot drop-offs and vote-by-mail.
The primary schedule thins out in April, with Wisconsin on April 7
and nothing else until six states vote on April 28.
(Reporting by John Whitesides; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Peter
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