Joe Biden has three times sought his party’s nomination for President. On Tuesday night, he finally seemed to have clinched that elusive prize.
With strong primary wins in Florida, Illinois and apparently Arizona, the former vice president took what appears to be a commanding and insurmountable lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), in what in recent weeks had suddenly come down to a two-man race.
Coronavirus, of course, was an undeniable factor in Tuesday’s races, dampening turnout (there were reports of voters showing up at some Florida precincts only to find no poll workers on site) and causing the postponement of Ohio’s primary. But in the end, early voting by mail — still a relatively new option in many states — led to overall higher turnouts and strong victories for Biden.
The results in Florida were particularly stunning. Not only did Biden win 60 percent of the vote, he took every one of Florida’s 67 counties, along with a vast majority of its delegates. That race alone appeared to make Biden’s lead insurmountable at this point. (Florida’s primary allocates 219 pledged delegates, making it one of the biggest prizes on the election calendar. According to early estimates, Biden will win at least 133 delegates, while Sanders will come away with less than 25.)
Florida’s race was always going to be an uphill battle for Sanders. In 2016, when running against Hillary Clinton, he won just nine of the state’s counties. And this campaign season, he seemed to compound his problems in the state by repeating earlier statements that many voters, particularly those in the influential Cuban-American community, took as too supportive of the regime of Fidel Castro.
In Illinois, Biden had the support of almost all of the state’s Democratic establishment, including Gov J.B. Pritzker, who endorsed the former vice president on Monday, both U.S. senators, Richard Durbin and Tammy Duckworth (occasionally mentioned as a possible running mate for Biden), and Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot. In the end, he was predicted to win a large majority of the state’s 155 delegates.
On Tuesday night, in lieu of the typical campaign rally to celebrate his wins, Biden live-streamed a brief victory speech from his home in Delaware. “Our campaign has had a very good night,” the vice president said, roughy half an hour before the Arizona polls but closed after he had scored his strong victories in Florida and Illinois.
He began by addressing the coronavirus crisis that has swept across the country with stunning speed in the past week. “Yes, this is a moment when we need our leaders to lead,” he said, “but it is also a moment when the choices and decisions we make as individuals are going to collectively impact what happens.” He added: “I know we, as a people, are up to this challenge. We always have been.”
And as he did last week, after his strong victories on Super Tuesday II, Biden offered an olive branch to the supporters of Bernie Sanders. “”I hear you,” he said. “I know what’s at stake. I know what we have to do.”
It is unclear how many of the remaining primary elections will take place; there has been strong pressure on Sanders to concede and the Democratic National Committee to cancel the rest of the contests.
But one thing does seem clear: The presidential race is now down to Joe Biden vs. Donald J. Trump. See you in November.