I picked either the best week or the worst week to start playing “The Last of Us,” and this is The Trailer.
It may be a while until we see another election like the one that unfolded Tuesday.
Arizona, Florida and Illinois were the only states to hold in-person voting on Election Day since the coronavirus pandemic began shutting down cities. It did not always go smoothly, with some election workers staying home and hundreds of thousands of voters following suit. In Illinois, turnout was slightly down from 2016 levels; in Arizona and Florida, a surge of early voting was followed by only modest Tuesday voting. Across all states, Election Day turnout slipped, an anomaly in a year when turnout had been rising.
The result was a third consecutive week of wins for Joe Biden, pushing Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) further out of contention for the Democratic nomination. More than half of the contests have now been held, and more than half of the Democratic delegates have been chosen. Biden, left for dead after his flops in Iowa and New Hampshire, now has as clear a shot at the nomination as Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama did at the very ends of the 2016 and 2008 primaries.
“The next primary contest is at least three weeks away,” Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir said in a Wednesday morning statement. “Sen. Sanders is going to be having conversations with supporters to assess his campaign.” It was the first suggestion that Sanders might end his campaign before the national convention.
The circumstances of these elections reduced the data that help us understand what happened. There was no traditional exit poll, replaced by NBC News and Edison phone polls of voters. The knowledge that some voters stayed home also skews the usefulness of the vote totals; the missing Democrats may well have voted like the Democrats who sent in ballots, but we will never know.
But at the moment, several primaries have been pushed back, to give states more time to figure out alternative voting systems. The next contests, still scheduled to unfold in Alaska and Hawaii next month, will prioritize mail ballots over in-person voting. The Democratic contest will continue, though the drama is fading day by day. Here's what we know.
Biden's coalition keeps expanding, as Sanders's coalition comes apart. Biden was expected to win yesterday, and win big. His 39-point margin of victory in Florida is the largest win for either candidate through this entire primary. In Broward County, the state's Democratic stronghold, he did not merely beat Sanders; he beat him in every single precinct. In Illinois, he swept nearly every county, falling short to Sanders, by less than 800 votes, in only liberal Champaign County.
Sanders's campaign set the table for a big defeat, highlighting the risks of in-person voting and accusing the Biden campaign of putting voters in danger. But with both candidates sidelined, Biden's support was more robust. According to exit polling, Biden won more than 60 percent of white and nonwhite voters in Florida, and nearly 60 percent in Illinois. He cleared 65 percent with black voters in both states, and won voters who marked “health care” as their top issue, even if they said they supported Medicare-for-all.
As we've seen since Super Tuesday, Sanders has held or expanded his support from nonwhite voters from 2016. What has knocked him down is a collapse in support from white voters, who have either flipped to Biden or stayed out of the primary. In 2016, Sanders won nine counties in Florida, mostly along the conservative Panhandle. Yesterday, while getting swept statewide, Sanders failed to break 25 percent of the vote in any of those counties, more evidence that some crucial 2016 support came from voters who simply wanted to protest Clinton.
Biden has won 19 of the 29 contests held so far, the strongest advantage for any Democratic candidate in a primary since John F. Kerry took an early lead in the 2004 race. The rest of this primary will take place over territory that Sanders lost in 2016, and Biden needs just 46 percent of the remaining delegates to get a pledged delegate majority — not counting the delegates assigned to the Democrats who've endorsed him.
Nothing is working for Sanders. In the last days before the Iowa caucuses, the Sanders campaign began running ads that attacked the president for floating cuts to Social Security. There was a message hidden inside those ads: Biden had been all over the place on Social Security, participating in at least one failed effort to reduce benefits. The dynamite was a 1995 floor speech, during the new Republican Congress's fight to pass a balanced-budget amendment.
“When I argued that we should freeze federal spending, I meant Social Security as well,” Biden said in that speech. “I meant Medicare and Medicaid.”
Voters in Florida and Illinois heard that speech, many times, because Sanders eventually turned it into an ad and used the most tense section of Sunday's debate to remind Biden of his old stance. But it didn't work. In NBC's polling, 61 percent of Florida voters said that they trusted Biden more than Sanders to “handle Social Security.” Even 29 percent of voters who said that they trusted Sanders on the issue voted for Biden anyway. In Sumter County, home to the massive retirement community of The Villages, Sanders won just 1,229 votes, coming in behind not only Biden, but Mike Bloomberg. Biden won 9,360 votes, and turnout was up overall.
Sanders has now made three attempts to change the trajectory of this race, entirely by focusing on Biden's record and contrasting it with his. In Michigan, that led to a rout for Biden. In Sunday's debate it produced at best a draw, not the Biden meltdown that some Sanders voters craved. On Tuesday, it led to losses everywhere, with Sanders unable to either convert Biden voters on substance or excite new voters based on his agenda.
President Trump keeps boosting GOP turnout, even during a pandemic. The president officially clinched the Republican nomination yesterday, after winning nearly every delegate in the contests held so far. In Florida, where there was no one else on the ballot to turn out for, Trump won at least 1,161,604 of 1,238,424 votes. (Seventy-two of 5,894 precincts have yet to report.) In Illinois, Republican turnout fell to 527,844 votes, but Trump won 506,948 of them. (There are still 114 of 10,114 precincts left to report.) That turnout was decisively for Trump, too; nearly 50,000 Illinois Republicans who voted in the presidential race skipped the Senate primary that was next on their ballots.
“President Trump is leaps and bounds ahead of where the past two successful re-election campaigns were,” RNC spokesman Steve Guest said in an election night statement.
Trump didn't need all these votes to clinch the nomination. Despite facing, at one point, three challengers with experience in elected office, Trump has won at least 85 percent of the vote in every contest. In Massachusetts, where his sole remaining challenger, Bill Weld — who dropped out Wednesday — won two terms as governor, Trump won 88 percent of the vote. That is happening even as coronavirus precautions have ended the rallies that were at the center of his campaign strategy.
Tulsi Gabbard has been mathematically eliminated from contention. It has been 15 days since the Hawaii congresswoman held a campaign event or won a delegate, and her campaign is effectively over. She has won two delegates and needs 1,989 more to clinch the nomination. But after Tuesday, there are just 1,672 pledged delegates left to be assigned. Gabbard has not withdrawn from the race, but her campaign has been scaled back to media appearances (often about the fairness of the primary) and updates on her work as a retiring member of Congress. The result: a sixth-place showing in Illinois and seventh place in Arizona and Florida. Early voting explains some of that, but it has been 13 days since the race reduced to Biden, Sanders and Gabbard, and she has been unable to put together more than a handful of protest votes.
Gabbard has pledged not to seek a third party's nomination or run as an independent, and as Democrats showed by raising their debate qualifying threshold, they are no longer worried about her ability to sap votes from Biden in November. If the Biden-Sanders contest is beginning to wind down, the Gabbard campaign is effectively over. In both Arizona and Florida, she won fewer votes than Roque “Rocky” de la Fuente, a businessman and perennial gadfly candidate, won in his Republican primary challenge to Trump. Neither candidate is much of a factor in the following primaries.
“Joe Biden romps over Bernie Sanders in Florida, Illinois and Arizona in Tuesday balloting,” by Michael Scherer, Annie Linskey and Sean Sullivan
What happened Tuesday.
“How Biden flips Arizona,” by Laura Barrón-López and Marc Caputo
The anatomy of a new swing state.
“Shuttered polling places and a dearth of cleaning supplies: Voters confront pandemic-fueled confusion at the polls,” by Elise Viebeck, Amy Gardner, Isaac Stanley-Becker and Mark Guarino
How the virus affected the vote.
“How Democrats can fix their coronavirus response,” by Brian Beutler
Getting the politics of a crisis right, or at least less wrong.
One of the last antiabortion Democrats goes down.
“Campaigning in Arizona during the coronavirus pandemic,” by Holly Bailey
What politicking in a crisis looks like.
In the states
Illinois. Rep. Daniel Lipinski survived primary challenges in 2006, 2008 and 2018. A mild-mannered academic who inherited his father's Chicagoland district, Lipinski was perhaps the most conservative Democrat in a safe seat — a personal and political opponent of abortion rights, a critic (for a while) of same-sex marriage, and an early opponent the Affordable Care Act.
Last night, Lipinski's winning streak ran out, dramatically so. With all but four of 500 precincts reporting, Lipinski had lost the Democratic nomination in 3rd Congressional District to Marie Newman, the challenger who had nearly defeated him in 2018. Turnout was up slightly from that year, but Lipinski's vote share fell from 51 to 45 percent. He fell more than 1,000 votes short of his 2018 numbers, while Newman ran 1,000 votes ahead of hers, and two other challengers, whose presence was expected to help Lipinski, split the rest.
“I am bursting with pride and gratitude for the amazing coalition that helped bring about much needed change in our district,” Newman wrote in an election night tweet. “We are going to work together to lower health care costs, to fight climate change, and to build an economy that works for everyone.”
Newman's win was a victory for a broad group of left-wing and liberal supporters, bigger than most other challengers supported by Justice Democrats. In her Countryside, Ill., campaign headquarters, an entire wall was taken up by the names and images of endorsers, ranging from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York to Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, a socialist Chicago alderman.
The breadth of that coalition mattered, as did Lipinski's lack of political caution. Antiabortion groups took some credit for his 2018 win, after they invested in a turnout program that pulled more conservative voters to the polls. Lipinski took that as a cue to emphasize the issue most Democrats disagreed with him on, speaking at the 2019 March for Life in Washington. Pro-Lipinski signs advertising his views on abortion were planted in some Latino-heavy parts of the district, too, an attempt to appeal to Catholic voters.
Meanwhile, Lipinski's Democratic support stayed stagnant, and even declined. In a Sunday interview, Lipinski predicted that there would be “a lot of Biden-Newman voters,” people coming out for the left-wing challenger and the moderate Democratic presidential candidate. That panned out. According to the Green Papers, the essential guide to primary math, Biden won at least 62,847 votes in the district, while Sanders won 41,160 votes. Newman ran about 7,000 votes ahead of Sanders, while Lipinski ran 17,000 votes behind Biden.
Newman is now the favorite to win the seat, which Hillary Clinton carried by 15 points, over educator Mike Fricilone, who entered Election Day with less than $10,000 in campaign funds. The competitive Chicago-area races will come in the 6th and 14th districts, places that Democrats flipped in 2018.
In the 6th, Republicans nominated Jeanne Ives, a conservative legislator whom Democrats see as a bad fit for a district moving quickly to the left. In the 14th, Republicans picked Jim Oberweis, a dairy magnate and state senator who lost a series of local races (and a 2014 race for U.S. Senate), and is more than twice as old as Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood. But Republicans picked female nominees in the 15th District, where Rep. John Shimkus is leaving a safe conservative seat, and in the 17th District, where Rep. Cheri Bustos, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has been a Republican target ever since the president narrowly won there.
Inside the state, the biggest splash may have come in the primary for Cook County state's attorney, where incumbent Kim Foxx, the leader in a wave of criminal justice-reform minded prosecutors, overcame opposition by police unions and the embarrassing Jussie Smollett case to win another term.
Pennsylvania. After a standoff between Republicans and Democrats over whether yesterday's contests should occur at all, Republicans won all three special elections for open state legislative seats. The biggest prize was a Bucks County-area seat won by K.C. Tomlinson, four years after Hillary Clinton carried it. Turnout was markedly down, from 22,767 votes cast in 2018 to 8,145 votes yesterday, but Democrats had previously celebrated special-election wins in lower-turnout scenarios.
Are you concerned about the spread of coronavirus? (NPR/Marist, 835 adults)
Concerned: 70% (+26)
Not concerned: 30% (-25)
In a month, voters have moved from confidence that the virus will affect other people to nervousness that it will affect them. In just the days since this poll was conducted, more states have clamped down on public movement and large events, even where cases of the virus are relatively sparse. Something to watch next: whether the president's popularity and confidence in his economic management, both high here, continue.
For five or six minutes Wednesday, people who were checking Twitter thought that the Bernie Sanders campaign was over. Sanders had suspended digital ad buys in upcoming states, and Axios published a story about Sanders suspending some advertising that was misread as saying he was stopping his campaign outright.
It wasn’t true. “He's not suspending,” spokesman Mike Casca clarified. “Nothing has changed since this morning's statement.” That statement referred only to Sanders “re-assessing” his options after a run of deep primary losses and a crisis that was delaying key contests.
With a four-year head start, and with the biggest war chest of any candidate in this primary, Sanders has substantially underperformed his 2016 campaign. Not every vote has been counted yet, and the changes in voting systems from 2016 to 2020 make a pure popular vote comparison impossible.
But as of now, Sanders has won 737 delegates from the states where primaries and caucuses are complete. Four years ago, he won 1,092 delegates from those contests. If the allocation in the states that have not finished counting is relatively friendly to him, he will be about 200 delegates short of where he was in the 2016 primary. And as we noted yesterday, Sanders lost overall in the states that have yet to vote, with places such as New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania looking grim for him.
Sanders's Tuesday night statement on the coronavirus did not mention the campaign but offered a series of expansive, bold welfare programs, like a $2,000 monthly check until the end of the crisis, that went further than anything proposed by former vice president Joe Biden. According to people around Sanders, he is thinking through his options and considering how to advance his priorities if Biden is the nominee. One theory is that he can do that by accruing delegates. “He would be forfeiting his delegates if he got out,” former National Nurses United president RoseAnn DeMoro, a Sanders ally, told The Post's Sean Sullivan. The unspoken implication is not just that Sanders will have a bigger role in shaping the platform, but that Biden, who has stumbled in some public appearances, could still engender a panic about his ability to beat President Trump.
There is a precedent here, and a recent one. Sanders, in a far better position, continued to seek the 2016 nomination after his path had disappeared, on two theories: that every voter deserved a say and that superdelegates could flip to him if they saw him gain momentum, or saw Clinton felled by scandal. Democrats under 35, most of whom support Sanders, have only known primaries (in 2008 and 2016) when every state held a competitive primary before the race was over.
But there is no precedent for a campaign in which the candidates cannot even hold rallies without ignoring government health guidelines. Unite the Country, the pro-Biden super PAC that had come under fire from Sanders, began Wednesday by urging Democrats to finally let the primary end.
“Last night’s overwhelming victories in Arizona, Illinois and Florida have effectively ended the race and Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee,” the PAC said in a statement.
… 17 days until scheduled primaries in Alaska and Hawaii
… 81 days until the cutoff for picking Democratic delegates
… 117 days until the Democratic National Convention
… 159 days until the Republican National Convention
… 229 days until the general election