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Opinion What will it take for Sanders to leave the race?

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) participates in a Democratic presidential primary debate at CNN Studios on March 15. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Despite the metastasizing disruption caused by the coronavirus, four delegate-heavy states will hold their primaries on Tuesday. Ohio (136), Illinois (155), Arizona (67) and Florida (219) collectively will allocate 577 delegates. Former vice president Joe Biden leads by double digits in polling in all four states. He therefore almost certainly will extend his current delegate lead (890-736).

This raises the question as to whether Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) intends to remain in the race after Tuesday. He said previously, “I’m not a masochist who wants to stay in the race that can’t be won.” Some might have concluded we reached that point after Biden drubbed Sanders last week, winning Missouri, Mississippi, Idaho and Michigan while leading in Washington with 94 percent of the votes counted.

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If Sanders loses all four races this week, will he get the hint and back out? The question has more urgency given that Georgia has postponed its primary originally scheduled for March 24. The next primary is currently set for March 29 in Puerto Rico, but the potential for delay remains. Indeed, as some states choose to postpone their primaries, the process would be drawn out even further should Sanders continue his campaign. By ending his race and conceding to Biden, Sanders can initiate the process of unification and planning for Biden’s general-election race. Once Biden becomes the presumptive winner, states that truly are under siege could reschedule their primaries, perhaps formulating a national primary date for all remaining states in May.

The Biden team certainly would like to begin staffing up for the general election and planning for the distinct possibility that there will be no in-person convention. The latter would necessitate a Democratic National Committee rule change. The logistics of such an effort would be daunting. (Would state delegates be able to meet in their home states, or will nearly 4,000 delegates “attend” from the safety of their own homes? What access will be afforded to the media?)

Moreover, the DNC should be making a full-court press now to arrange for no-excuse voting by mail in all 50 states for November (and for primary races for House, Senate and state races). Failure to do so would mean thousands or even millions of people might be effectively disenfranchised depending on the status of the pandemic and the condition of those who might have contracted the virus (as well as their family members who are caring for them). Foot-dragging by the Republicans — whose mission in recent years has been to make voting harder (thereby suppressing the votes of those they think are likely to vote for Democrats) — must cease. Their own voters will be just as likely to be affected, so it would make little sense for them to oppose one uniform system of mail-in ballots.

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None of this planning is possible so long as Sanders maintains the pretense that the race is still active. Sanders, once more at risk of becoming the poster boy for sour grapes, would be well advised to stop taking money from donors, to stop inducing volunteers to door-knock and conduct other campaign activities, and to get on with the task of unifying the party and preparing for what is surely to be the weirdest general presidential election in history.

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Read more:

Ruth Marcus: Why Joe Biden is the antidote to this virus

Jennifer Rubin: After this debate, what possible rationale does Bernie Sanders have for staying in the race?

Karen Tumulty: Biden makes his debut as the Democrats’ presumptive nominee

Jennifer Rubin: Biden’s strength in Arizona spells trouble for Trump