The first: What will Bernie Sanders do? The second: How do we guarantee the integrity of our electoral system in the midst of a pandemic?
By every conventional measure, the race for the Democratic nomination is over. Most striking about Tuesday’s primaries is how similar they were to all the others held since Biden swept South Carolina on Feb. 29.
Broadly speaking, Biden is the choice of more than half of Democrats, while Sanders has the backing of about a third of the party. This race is nothing like four years ago when Sanders fought Hillary Clinton right through the contests in June and after.
In 2016, for example, Sanders came very close to beating Clinton in Illinois. On Tuesday, Illinois was a rout: Biden took 59 percent to Sanders’s 36 percent. Biden won county after county where Sanders had prevailed four years ago. Against Clinton, Sanders did well among white, non-college-educated voters in what turned out to be a sign of Clinton’s coming difficulties against Donald Trump. Biden is largely carrying such voters this year.
Biden now has a substantial delegate lead, and with the possible exception of Wisconsin and — it would be a very long shot — New York, there are no obvious states down the road where Sanders would have a serious chance of shaking up the contest.
The Sanders camp can see this as clearly as anyone, and on Wednesday morning, Faiz Shakir, the senator’s campaign manager, issued a statement saying that the Sanders would be “having conversations with supporters to assess his campaign” over the next weeks.
The statement was good news for the Biden camp, which does not want to be seen by members of Sanders’s loyal base as pushing their champion out of the race. For his part, Biden was all about outreach in his recorded statement on Tuesday night, which was directed largely at offering a unifying message to a country facing a pandemic. Biden’s calm tone of resolve and conciliation sharply contrasted with Trump’s erratic and often divisive messages throughout the crisis.
And Biden went out of his way to praise Sanders and his supporters for changing the nation’s political conversation. “Let me say especially to the young voters who have been inspired by Senator Sanders: I hear you,” Biden said. He stressed that he shared with Sanders “a common vision for the need to provide affordable health care for all Americans, reducing income inequity that has risen so drastically, to tackling the existential threat of our time, climate change.”
If Sanders and Biden want an immediate joint project, they can unite in pointing to the dangers to the election process itself, brought home by Gov. Mike DeWine’s decision to cancel in-person voting in Ohio primary on Tuesday. DeWine argued that opening the polls would undermine efforts to contain the coronavirus.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said on MSNBC that he believed DeWine, a Republican, acted “in totally good faith,” but expressed worry about “any precedent” the cancellation might set. Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, made the second point more sharply, telling me that “this is the Trump era, when old rules don’t always apply and outrageous things occur with regularity.”
Guaranteeing that the virus will not be used in the fall as a pretext to disrupt the election should be a key component of any broad stimulus bill. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), along with election specialist Rick Hasen of the University of California at Irvine, have proposed that all states offer unrestricted absentee voting and mail-in ballots, with the effort funded by the federal government.
It is not paranoia but realism to imagine that Trump is now very nervous about the election as Biden thrives among the suburban constituencies that helped Democrats take the House in 2018 and blue-collar voters who gravitated to Trump in 2016. Protecting the election is a cause that should bring Biden and Sanders together.