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Democratic primaries in chaos as Washington state declared for Joe Biden

The Democratic presidential primary is currently consumed with uncertainty after leaders in Ohio called off Tuesday’s election just hours before polls were set to open, citing the need to combat the new coronavirus. Officials in Florida, Arizona and Illinois said so far they will move forward with the vote.  Not since New York City postponed its mayoral primary on the day of 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center has an election been pushed off in such a high-profile, far-reaching way.

Ohio governor Mike DeWine initially asked a court to delay the vote and when a judge refused to do so the state’s health director declared a health emergency that would prevent the polls from opening.  The decision was a reminder that the most elemental act of American democracy – voting – will be severely tested on Tuesday as several states hold presidential primaries while also confronting the impact of a global pandemic. The contests are playing out as the virus’ impact is becoming more tangible with schools closing across the country, workers staying home and restaurants and bars shuttering. 

The rapidly shifting developments amounted to a kind of chaos rarely seen in an election season. And it may not end soon as some states that have presidential contests in the coming weeks have already moved to postpone them and others were being pressed to follow.  Campaigns spent Monday sifting through data and talking to contacts on the ground to assess the impact of the coronavirus on turnout in places that will hold elections on Tuesday.

Former vice president Joe Biden is moving closer to securing the Democratic presidential nomination but could face a setback if the older voters who tend to support him don’t show up. Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, can’t afford to lose support from young voters who have been his most loyal supporters. 
  The tumult has left the campaign in a state of suspended animation.

In-person rallies have been replaced with sometimes-awkward virtual events.  Sanders, the last Democrat standing between Biden and the nomination, isn’t planning to drop out. His campaign looked to have nowhere to go after a big loss last week in Michigan, and another blow landed on Monday night when Biden was declared the winner of the primary in Washington state, giving him victories in five out of six states that voted 10 March.

Yet Sanders’ top advisers see no downside to staying in the race as they assess how the coming days and weeks unfold.  Sanders staged a virtual rally on Monday night featuring himself, rocker Neil Young and activist actress Daryl Hannah. He also released a video criticising Biden for suggesting as a senator that he’d be willing to cut Social Security benefits – a line of attack he employed frequently during Sunday’s debate. 

“I don’t have to tell anybody that we are living in a very unprecedented and strange moment in the history of our country,” Sanders said, urging supporters that it may be time to “rethink our value system, rethink many of the systems we operate under.” 
  Sanders’ team had expected Biden to do well in all four states set to vote on Tuesday. But the Vermont senator has also cast some doubt about the entire process, saying no one should risk being infected while voting and noting that it’s important “to make sure that everybody who wants to vote has the right to vote, and that may not be the case now.” 

Still, Sanders faces an increasingly tough path to the nomination. About half of the delegates in the Democratic primary have already been awarded and, if Biden has another big night Tuesday, he will pad an already large and perhaps insurmountable lead. Sanders trails Biden by more than 150 delegates nationally, meaning he’d need to win more than 57 per cent of those yet to be allocated to clinch the Democratic nomination. 

Biden’s campaign is trying not to look presumptuous about its prospects at this sensitive moment.

Still, the former vice president is making moves to rally more voters to his campaign, including his announcement during the debate that he would choose a woman as a running mate. 

Congressman Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, one of Biden’s campaign co-chairs, said the former vice president has “started the process of looking at people seriously.” 

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