Biden Cements Decisive Lead Over Sanders in Democratic Primary

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Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaking in Wilmington, Delaware, March 12, 2020.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaking in Wilmington, Delaware, March 12, 2020. Credit: Matt Rourke / AP

WASHINGTON – One month ago, there was a consensus among most political analysts and pundits in the United States that former Vice President Joe Biden had very little chance to win the Democratic presidential nomination.

After disappointing results for Biden in the first three states to vote in the Democratic primary – Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada – some even called on him to quit the race and endorse another candidate.

On Tuesday, however, Biden practically ended the nomination contest with big wins in the states of Florida, Illinois and Arizona. The three states that held primary votes were supposed to be joined by Ohio, but that state’s primary was delayed because of the coronavirus. Recent polling showed Biden with a big lead there as well.

The Democratic primary has essentially become a direct contest between Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Biden is currently leading comfortably in the number of delegates, and has already amassed more than 50% of the delegates that are needed in order to officially win the nomination. Sanders’ chances to win the nomination, which looked good after the first Democratic primary votes, are currently very slim.

The first state to report its results on Tuesday night was Florida, where Biden won 61% of the vote and Sanders just 23%. A big chunk of the vote in Florida was “early voting” conducted by mail, which is why candidates who have already dropped out of the race, such as former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg and Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, together received more than 10% of the vote.

Biden’s victory in Florida came with strong backing from various demographic groups, most notably African American voters, who have tilted the primary strongly in his favor ever since the vote in South Carolina three weeks ago. However, as in previous states, exit polling showed a significant generational gap, with voters under 45 overwhelmingly preferring Sanders, and older voters strongly backing Biden.

An exit poll conducted by the Associated Press in Florida showed that 71% of Jewish voters in the primary chose Biden, while 16% chose Sanders. Florida’s Jewish population includes many retirees who moved to Florida from other parts of the country. Over the weekend, the Sun Sentinel newspaper in southern Florida ran an article by former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro who endorsed Biden and praised his strong record of support for Israel and his ties to the Jewish community.

While Biden's margins of victory in Illinois and Arizona were not as large as in Florida, they were nevertheless impressive. After 84% of the votes were counted in Illinois on Tuesday night, Biden was leading by approximately 20%. In Arizona, which polls showed as more competitive than the other two, preliminary results showed him on course to defeat Sanders by a 15% margin.

The next set of primaries is scheduled to take place in early April, but it’s unclear if they will indeed happen, for two main reasons. One is the coronavirus, which could lead more states to do what Ohio did and postpone election days; the second is that Biden’s lead will now increase the pressure on Sanders to end his campaign.

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