Credit…Illustration by The New York Times
We now almost certainly know how the Democratic primary is going to end. We just don’t know when it will happen.
Tuesday night, as San Francisco sheltered in place and the European Union barricaded borders, Joe Biden swept three primary contests. He won nearly every county in Florida, Illinois and Arizona, capturing majorities across virtually all major demographic groups.
Now Bernie Sanders finds himself in a particularly difficult position.
The spread of the coronavirus means he can’t campaign. He can’t get news coverage. And he can’t seem to narrow the gap in delegates.
The large rallies he uses to energize his supporters are suspended over concerns about the virus spreading. Cable news networks didn’t air his remarks last night, sticking with coronavirus reports instead. To capture the nomination he would have to win the remaining delegates by around 20 percentage points, requiring a net 40-point improvement over his performance so far, as our colleague Nate Cohn points out.
The only state Mr. Sanders has won since Super Tuesday is North Dakota. In a normal election, that would be a cue for Mr. Sanders to find a podium, give a concession speech before teary-eyed supporters and vow to back Mr. Biden.
But, as we all know, these are not normal times.
Every major state primary election until Wisconsin on April 7 has been postponed. Two states — Louisiana and Kentucky — have even pushed their elections past June 9, the deadline set by the Democratic National Committee.
Wisconsin’s primary, too, could get moved, as the coronavirus spreads. On Wednesday, Democrats sued to extend the state’s deadline for online voter registration and vote-by-mail applications.
To be honest, we don’t know when the next round of voting will be.
But what is clear is that the coronavirus crisis flipped a switch among Democratic primary voters.
When asked today’s most pressing questions — who can best handle a crisis and who has the best chances to defeat Donald Trump — Democrats picked Mr. Biden by significant margins in all three states, according to surveys by the National Election Pool.
Some Democrats say the concern about Mr. Sanders is obvious: If you can’t win primaries in states like Florida, Arizona and Michigan, how do you expect to win a general election? They’re urging him — in ways both quiet and more vocal — to end his campaign.
Mr. Sanders doesn’t agree. At least not yet.
The liberal champion sees the current crisis as a moment to press the case that he’s been making for years about health care and income inequality, issues that are likely to become more immediate as the virus spreads.
And with so much uncertainty, the race could shift if there’s a gap of weeks — or months! — before the next voting.
There’s certainly one other candidate who sees an advantage if Mr. Sanders remains in the race: President Trump. For months, he has delighted in the prospect of an intraparty fight, which he believes will benefit his re-election bid, and has repeatedly claimed, without evidence, that the D.N.C. has “rigged” the election against Mr. Sanders.
“The DNC will have gotten their fondest wish and defeated Bernie Sanders, far ahead of schedule,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “Now they are doing everything possible to be nice to him in order to keep his supporters. Bernie has given up, just like he did last time. He will be dropping out soon!”
The Sanders campaign has begun to prepare its supporters for political reality to sink in. “No sugarcoating it, last night did not go the way we wanted,” Faiz Shakir, Mr. Sanders’s campaign manager, wrote in a note to supporters Wednesday morning.
He added, “We are losing the battle over electability to Joe Biden.”
In at least one way, Mr. Sanders has already won. On issues like climate change, taxes and health care, Mr. Biden’s platform is further to the left than any Democratic nominee’s in recent history.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and it is by far the most progressive agenda we have ever seen on the Democratic side,” said former Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, who once headed the D.N.C. “Bernie has made a tremendous impact. My only hope is that Bernie continues his energies against Trump.”
As for Mr. Sanders, aides say he plans to vote on the coronavirus relief package in Washington before heading home to Vermont with his wife to assess their path forward.
When asked in the Capitol today about his campaign plans, Mr. Sanders lashed out: “I’m dealing with a fucking global crisis,” he told reporters.
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When will polls open again?
Is anyone holding elections anymore? I wanted to get a better sense of what’s left of the primary calendar, so I called up Nick Corasaniti, political reporter, newsletter writer and Jersey rock expert.
Here’s what he told me about voting in the time of coronavirus:
Hi, Nick! Where are you holed up?
I am in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, right now. I am at my Ikea desk that I got on Craigslist and put in the corner of my room, and I also went on Craigslist and got an ergonomic chair. I’m actually more comfortable in this chair that I am at my desk chair at the office.
My house is so small that I can’t even fit a chair along with a desk for my husband and a desk for my kid. So, anyway, are there going to be any more primaries or are we done?
There will be more primaries. Nothing is set in stone, but it does look like the next big one, Wisconsin, will probably happen on April 7. They also have some municipal and county elections and a state Supreme Court justice on the ballot. So there are some transfer-of-power issues there that make it a little bit harder to move than a simple presidential primary, as other states have done.
Why can’t all these states just switch to voting by mail?
It’s not an easy switch to flip, both practically and legislatively. All of our election systems are on a state-by-state basis, and then in some states decentralized further down to the counties. In Wisconsin, they’re decentralized down to municipalities. There are 1,800 municipalities that cover an election. It’s a jumble of governments that would need to all act together.
You also have to find vendors —
What do you need? You need that crayon?
— that can print your ballots. … Oh, are you talking to your kid?
Yeah. Sorry about that. Purple crayon crisis. Anyhow, you were saying?
It’s not like every state is sitting on enough vote-by-mail ballots for their entire voting population. You have to go print these ballots. You have to have enough envelopes.
The bigger thing is that in a lot of states it would require either legislative action or an executive order from the governor. Not all states are on the same page for voting by mail and some would need different laws.
Is there any effort to think through how we might need to change the general election voting in November, or are people just not there yet?
There are efforts in Congress to mandate the opportunity to vote by mail for everyone. But the thought of this passing before any of the primaries seems unlikely.
Any changes made for the primaries would likely also apply to a general election.
So, how are you going to spend the rest of the day?
I’m going to spend the rest of the day calling secretaries of state and state parties to find out how this vote by mail is progressing. But to be perfectly honest, I made the Alison Roman stew last night so I’ll have that for lunch. I’ll turn on the new Springsteen “London Calling” stream that he released last night and take a quick break.
Who doesn’t love that stew? Stay healthy!
This isn’t a bad idea …
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