What we know is this: Voters in Arizona, Florida and Illinois could put an end to this primary. Together, they assign 441 delegates, pushing the Democratic primary past the halfway mark. After today, the majority of delegates will have been selected, and had Ohio held its primary today, just 38.5 percent of them would be left.
But Ohio is not holding its primary today, and the states that are going forward are facing criticism for conducting an election when gatherings of more than 10 people are being advised against by the federal government. By happenstance, all of the states holding contests today allow copious early voting; in Arizona and Florida, close to half of the vote is now cast before Election Day. But that has not prevented long lines at polling stations, even in ordinary times. (Get the latest on what's happening on the ground in those three states here.)
Before the novel coronavirus began limiting where voters could go, today's primaries were likely to put Bernie Sanders too far behind Joe Biden for the senator from Vermont to catch up. Sanders entered Tuesday at least 141 delegates behind Biden, a deficit that was expected to grow substantially based on the demographics of today's states. In polling, he has trailed the former vice president by double digits in every state. In one of them, Florida, he has trailed so decisively that Biden could nearly double his current delegate lead.
Under normal circumstances, lopsided Biden victories in these states would close off Sanders's route to the nomination and start a conversation about when the senator might end his campaign. In 2016, he lost all of these states but kept running, counting on later caucuses and the June primary in California to turn things around.
Those caucuses are mostly gone, and California has voted already. Hillary Clinton got a 79-delegate margin out of the three states voting today; with Ohio, that was a 98-delegate margin. Sanders was already bracing to end this week down by more than 200 delegates, but a good run by Biden could put the margin closer to 250 or 300, bigger than any candidate has overcome to win a nomination. The question, which it's not up to this newsletter to answer, is whether voters turn out and whether all parties consider the result legitimate enough to play out this race.
7 p.m. Polls close in most of Florida, except for the nine counties of the panhandle that are in the Central time zone. The state has 219 delegates to assign, with the biggest hauls in the three South Florida congressional districts in Fort Lauderdale and Miami's suburbs: the 20th, 21st and 22nd.
Like Michigan, which voted last week, Florida held only a token primary in 2008; a fight with the DNC over timing and delegates led to candidates skipping the state altogether. In 2016, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton campaigned in Florida only a few times, always in major population centers. There is no recent history of effective primary campaigning here. There is a recent history of Sanders doing poorly. He lost every single one of the state's 27 congressional districts to Clinton, giving her a 68-delegate lead.
Even when the race was more crowded, and Mike Bloomberg was splitting moderate votes with Joe Biden, Sanders was at a heavy disadvantage in Florida. He won nine counties last time, all of them the sort of white, rural areas that have been drifting to Biden in this primary. He never solved his problems with black voters, who make up a quarter of the state's Democratic electorate, and he created problems for himself with Cuban American voters, who have been more open to voting Democratic recently but remain staunchly anti-Castro and wary of Sanders's past praise of his regime.
There is no optimistic scenario for Sanders here, so it's going to be about margins. Four years ago, he got less than 30 percent of the vote in the counties of South Florida: Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade. He cracked 40 percent of the vote in Leon County, home to Tallahassee, and got close in Pinellas County, home to St. Petersburg and Clearwater. Those are his benchmarks for keeping Biden's delegate win to the mid-double digits.
2016 result: Clinton 64%, Sanders 33%
2008 result: Clinton 50%, Obama 33%
8 p.m. Polls close across Illinois, where Democrats run every statewide office and have called for today's election to go forward. Four years ago, this was the closest of the states on the March 17 map, with Bernie Sanders losing by around 40,000 ballots out of more than 2 million cast, coming just two delegates behind Hillary Clinton in a state that elects 155 delegates.
This year was always going to be harder. Sanders had done best in two kinds of places: places with heavy Latino populations and rural areas where there was antipathy toward Clinton. He actually won 11 of the state's 18 congressional districts, coming close to 60 percent of the vote in the 13th and 14th districts, a combination of exurbs and college towns. In the city of Chicago, he ran best in the Latino-heavy 4th District, grabbing 58 percent of the vote. But Clinton crushed him in majority-black districts, building her margin for the statewide win.
The biggest challenge for Sanders, as it has been in other Midwestern primaries, is the migration of white voters back to Joe Biden. Sanders won the white vote by 15 points in 2016, winning white voters with and without college degrees by about the same margin. One advantage for Sanders in 2016 was that Illinois does not register voters by party, making it easier for non-Democrats to pull a ballot. Sanders won independent voters by 39 points last time, a margin he has struggled to hit in this year's races.
In 2016, most of the Democratic vote came from Cook County, home to Chicago, its suburbs and the only restaurants that know how to correctly make pizza. Clinton won there by eight points; a Biden margin of that size or bigger could mean an early night. Watch DuPage County, just outside Cook, to see if suburbs and exurbs that had been willing to back Sanders before have flipped to Biden.
2016 result: Clinton 51%, Sanders 49%
2008 result: Obama 65%, Clinton 33%
9 p.m. Polls will be closed across Arizona, the state that looks best for Bernie Sanders if his new coalition — younger and more Latino — sticks together. It's the smallest prize of the day, with just 67 delegates, though that's more than were selected in Iowa and New Hampshire combined. And it's got a checkered history with Sanders voters, thanks to a botched 2016 primary that led to massive lines in Maricopa County, where the bulk of Democratic votes get cast. Both the Hillary Clinton and Sanders campaigns sued over that, though it was supporters of Sanders, who lost, speculating that the actions of the Republican-run county had been taken to hurt them.
Arizona has inched to the left since then, with Democrats making gains in the 2018 elections, and Sanders has made multiple campaign stops here, including one of the final in-person events he held before the start of social distancing. But in 2016, he generally lost everywhere. He was defeated by a 20-point margin in the 3rd District, where Rep. Raúl Grijalva had endorsed him, and by the same margin in the Latino-heavy 7th District, where turnout that year was lowest. Sanders did best, again, in rural areas where Clinton was weak, but he carried only Coconino County, where Native Americans outnumber Latino voters.
In 2016, more than half the Democratic vote came from Maricopa County, and Clinton won it by 18 points. If voters are comfortably turning out, the vote total, which nearly hit 250,000 four years ago, should be slightly above that. If Sanders is losing by a wide margin there, there is probably not enough to close the race in the rest of the state.
2016 result: Clinton 56%, Sanders 41%
2008 result: Clinton 50%, Obama 42%
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What happened in Sunday night's debate.
“Gillum withdraws from politics after link to suspected drug overdose,” by Gary Fineout and Marc Caputo
The end, for now, of a promising Florida career.
The intra-Democratic squabbles couldn't be stopped by a pandemic.
Inside Illinois' most exciting election today.
The glass ceiling is back, but there's a fight for the consolation prize.
On the trail
COUNTRYSIDE, Ill. — The canvassers were the first to go. Marie Newman's congressional campaign had lined up 1,000 people for a final weekend push, to knock on doors across Illinois' 3rd District. On Friday, they were told to stay home and make phone calls instead, 47,000 of them.
“Imagine taking one thousand employees and giving them a new schedule in one business day,” said Newman, sitting at the desk where she'd been making her own calls, in lieu of door-to-door campaigning. “I'm a former management consultant. That wasn't easy. Normally, I'd be knocking doors 12 hours a day.”
Newman, who is challenging Rep. Daniel Lipinski in today's Democratic primary, had been running for Congress for the better part of three years. In 2018, she came fewer than 2,200 votes away from ousting the incumbent, who is one of the last antiabortion Democrats in the House. In 2019, she got a good head start, lining up new endorsements and building a sophisticated, sprawling turnout operation.
The novel coronavirus had changed everything. Newman is one of three left-wing challengers facing a Democratic incumbent today. All of them have had to scale back their campaigns, cancel events and stop reaching voters in person. One of them, Ohio's Morgan Harper, won't have a primary today at all.
“This weekend was going to be boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, nonstop, like it was since the campaign started,” said Anthony Clark, a teacher who is making his second run against Rep. Danny K. Davis (Ill.). “But that was prior to the virus.”
Both Clark and Newman had big plans for the campaign's final weekend. Newman was supposed to rally with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, her best-known supporter; the campaign had to settle for a short video. Clark was set to launch a canvass with Nina Turner, the co-chair of the Bernie Sanders campaign, but Turner had to cancel her travel.
“We had joint Bernie/Clark rollouts around the city, hundreds of locations,” Clark said.
Before the virus locked down Chicago, Clark and Newman were running similar campaigns, with different levels of opposition. Lipinski had cast himself as a problem-solver who would protect the Affordable Care Act, which he voted against, from Newman and “Medicare-for-all,” and he had raised enough money to pound that message into TV ads. Davis, who'd raised less than $300,000 for his reelection campaign, was running on his clout inside a new Democratic majority. His slogan, two years ago and now, was “the name you know.”
Both Clark and Newman were seeking rematches, though their strong 2018 performances had enticed other Democrats into their races, potentially splitting the anti-incumbent vote. That was what the get-out-the-vote operation was for, until that operation had to pause. In Newman's Countryside office, next to the Chicago city line, boxes of literature were stacked on top of each other, designed for door-drops that had become inadvisable. Newman herself had stopped canvassing after realizing that voters could not come to the doors.
“There was one very cute elderly couple, just the other day,” she recalled. “They yelled through their screen door: ‘We love you, Marie! We just don't want to touch you!' People are rightfully scared.”
It hasn't been easy for the incumbents, either. Lipinski, according to his campaign, spent Sunday knocking on doors in the district, with a new regimen: Knock, walk back 10 feet, and try to carry on a conversation with whatever voter answered. (The campaign did not make Lipinski himself available for an interview.) He had planned to walk in a St. Patrick's Day parade and to go to church. All of that was canceled.
“This was going to be our final big get-out-the-vote rally,” said Phil Davidson, a Lipinski strategist. “A lot of cops and firemen live in that area, and we have endorsements from both those unions. But it's understandable, why everyone is pulling the plug now. It's scary out there.”
Lipinski's campaign was keeping canvassers on the street, while Newman's wasn't. The final weekend was about triage, not momentum, and it was hard for some campaigners to get over that. The Clark campaign, in particular, had been a major project for Democratic Socialists of America, which was on a tear in Chicago, winning a bloc of seats on the city council in last year's elections. But its joint effort for Clark and Sanders was being scaled back, canvasses canceled, members encouraged to make calls instead. Even a debate watch party at the usual DSA bar in the district had been canceled.
“There's no nice way to put it,” said Sean Duffy, who was coordinating the DSA effort for Sanders's campaign. “It sucks. It's a real bummer, after months and months of work.”
The challengers could not stay inside, not all the time. Clark and Newman spent some of the final hours before the vote visiting early-vote precincts. The new rules were in effect, with bundled-up volunteers making no contact with voters, making it clear that they were holding palm cards with gloves, not bare hands.
On Sunday, Newman stopped by an early-vote location at a police precinct, where turnout was tracking close to 2016 levels; not bad, but less than everyone had wanted. When one voter went in for a handshake, Newman offered her elbow for a bump.
“Social distancing!” she said.
Some voters, coming out of the polls, said that they were simply trying to get the election over with. Some said they had factored in the quarantine and the risk of problems or lines if they voted Tuesday.
“That did cross my mind,” said David Zhou, 30, after he left the precinct. “I think they should give people more time to vote. I'm just being cautious.”
After a half-hour of greeting voters, Newman spotted a Chinese restaurant across the street, and invited a campaign staffer for hot and sour soup. The choice was intentional, she said: She had always tried to spend campaign time and her own money at small businesses, and those businesses were about to suffer as the city closed down. At the peak lunch hour, Newman, her staffer and a reporter were the only customers in the restaurant, and the conversation turned to another uncomfortable topic: Would an election conducted under these conditions be fair? Would the winner have won, would the loser have lost, under normal circumstances?
“We'll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Newman said. “I could make the case that if turnout is bigger, there will be more real Democrats, more progressives out there, and they will vote for me. Dan tends to have Republicans cross over, and moderate Democrats vote for him. But maybe he benefits from a depressed turnout.”
Newman ladled more soup into her bowl. “It's just complicated,” she said. “But we're following every safety precaution in order to get everybody out.”
Marie Newman, “Meet Marie Newman.” In her second run for Congress, Newman has reintroduced herself as a neighbor who made good, “baptized at St. Barnabas,” before building businesses and becoming a gun- control activist. The reference to her Catholic upbringing is a shot at Lipinski's advantage: This remains a very Catholic district, where antiabortion moderates made up the margin of the congressman's 2018 win.
Daniel Lipinski, “Standing Up.” The congressman is one of very few Democrats still in Congress who opposed the Affordable Care Act in 2010. In his reelection bid, he's positioned himself as a defender of the law against the Trump administration, versus a candidate, Newman, who would replace Obama's work with a private-industry-killing Medicare-for-all plan. “We'd lose our health insurance and taxes would skyrocket,” warns a narrator, over footage of a woman comforting a sick man.
Arizona primary (Monmouth, 373 voters)
Joe Biden: 51%
Bernie Sanders: 31%
Tulsi Gabbard: 1%
The only DNC-recognized poll of this primary state finds a solid lead for Biden, with 12 percent of the vote going to candidates who've dropped out of the race, not uncommon in an early-vote-reliant state. (In 2016, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio beat then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich in Arizona, even though Rubio had dropped out and Kasich hadn't.) It also finds Biden and Sanders running competitively with Trump in November, despite the president's mid-40s approval rating and despite a plurality of voters saying he's handled the coronavirus crisis well.
Ohio primary (NBC-Marist, 486 likely voters)
Joe Biden: 58%
Bernie Sanders: 35%
Tulsi Gabbard: 2%
Like a grocery list from Isaac Leibowitz, this poll comes from a world that no longer exists. It finds a more dominant lead for Biden than Hillary Clinton ever had in Ohio in her race against Sanders; final polling put her up by eight points, slightly smaller than her win margin. He stayed relatively close by winning some white, rural areas and overperforming in college towns like Athens, while turnout shrank from the 2008 primary. The ominous reason: Lots of conservative Democrats were switching to vote in the Republican primary for Donald Trump. With those voters resettled in a new party, there is not much for Sanders to grab onto.
In the states
Ohio's decision to push back its primary has moved today's down-ballot action entirely to Illinois, where races for president, federal offices and local offices are all held on the same day. The most closely watched races are the ones covered above, in the 3rd Congressional District and 7th Congressional District. But there's also a race on for the 1st Congressional District, held by Rep. Bobby L. Rush since 1993. Robert Emmons Jr., who had not yet celebrated his 1st birthday when Rush took office, is challenging him from the left; like Anthony Clark, he secured a major newspaper endorsement, largely on his promise of generational change.
Democrats now control most of Illinois' delegation to Congress, and Republicans struggled to recruit candidates for much of 2019. Seven Republicans are competing for the right to challenge Rep. Lauren Underwood in the 14th Congressional District, including two state senators. Wealthy dairy magnate Jim Oberweis has spent the most money; Sue Rezin has gotten support from national Republicans who want to diversify the party's presence in Congress.
But the highest-profile contest may be the race for Cook County state's attorney, where Kim Foxx, whose 2016 victory kicked off a wave of reformer victories in prosecutor's offices, has become best known nationally for not throwing the book at Jussie Smollett, an actor who allegedly faked a hate crime against himself.
Like we've been saying, the function of a candidate-tracking column is limited when the candidates themselves do not go anywhere. Both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders held live events on Monday night. For Biden, it was a virtual town hall that avoided the embarrassment of his pre-Illinois event. For Sanders, it was a “virtual rally” with live musical performances and a speech from the senator, admitting that he continued to lose the “electability” argument.
Neither candidate has events planned after today, nor does the president, who just announced that gatherings of more than 10 people are ill-advised until the worst of the coronavirus crisis is over. But today's primaries — the expectations, and that they are happening at all — are largely about Sanders, and whether he will end his campaign.
The main problem for the senator from Vermont is that, unless his coalition changes dramatically, the primary after today will be held on territory that is far more favorable to Biden. With Ohio's decision to delay its primary, there are 25 contests left, from New York to Guam. Four years ago, Sanders won just 11 of those contests. Across all the states still left on the map, Clinton won a 111-delegate margin over Sanders, powered by big wins in New York and Pennsylvania. In 2016, Sanders benefited from the caucuses held in Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming, where he won landslide victories. This year, only Wyoming is still holding a caucus.
Sanders's campaign announced last week that it was opening offices in Pennsylvania, which is scheduled to vote April 28. But unless he scores upsets today, there are no big states left on the calendar that look promising for him. And there may be no more in-person rallies left to hold before the primary is over.
Dems in disarray
The decisions of leaders in key states to postpone their primary elections has added a new problem for the Democratic National Committee — yes, another one!
As of now, five states have pushed their primaries from the next few weeks into June: Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland and Ohio. Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, said it wants to as well. No more contests are on the calendar until April 4, when Alaska, Hawaii and Wyoming are scheduled vote. All of them held caucuses in 2016, and all have modified that process, with Alaska and Hawaii holding party-run primaries, with mail ballots, akin to the one held last week in North Dakota.
The problem is actually one of timing for the states that have proactively sought delays. According to the DNC’s rules, each state must select its delegates by June 7; if that doesn’t happen, it will automatically lose half of those delegates before the Democratic National Convention. Georgia has picked a June 20 date for its primary, and Kentucky has picked June 27, meaning that both would need to seek permission from the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee to get the delegates restored.
The precautions being taken right now are also canceling state and local conventions, where the actual delegates to the convention will be selected. The importance of that, and of these deadlines, is tied to the competitiveness of the primary.
If the contest ends soon, the party will have leeway, and few protests, if it restores delegates to states that had delays. If it doesn’t, the party could face opposition, in this case probably from supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders. The DNC got a similar reaction in 2008, when it restored delegates to Florida and Michigan, which had forfeited their delegates by moving up the calendar. When the race turned out to be close, the party held an emergency meeting to assign delegates, and some Hillary Clinton supporters stormed the meeting, outraged.
Michael Scherer contributed reporting.
… 82 days until the cut-off for picking Democratic delegates
… 118 days until the Democratic National Convention
… 160 days until the Republican National Convention
… 230 days until the general election