Biden closes in on Democratic nomination to face Trump

New York: Former US Vice President Joe Biden took a major step toward clinching the Democratic presidential nomination on Tuesday with easy wins in primaries held in a string of states, including the night’s biggest prize: Florida.

Biden’s victories over Senator Bernie Sanders, a left-wing politician with a progressive agenda, effectively ended his rival’s hopes of a comeback.

The former vice president is now almost certain to be the Democratic Party’s nominee to face President Donald Trump, a Republican, in the November’s presidential election.

These were the first primaries to be held amid the heightened fear and restrictions triggered by the coronavirus. The Trump administration has recommended avoiding groups of more than 10 people, and turnout was down in Illinois on Tuesday. But extensive early voting helped lift turnout in Florida and Arizona, which also voted in Biden’s favour.

Biden, 77, defeated Sanders by nearly 40 percentage points in Florida and more than 20 percentage points in Illinois, expanding his nearly unbeatable advantage in the campaign to choose a challenger to the Republican Trump in the Nov. 3 election, before the race enters an extended hiatus with no voting scheduled for weeks.

Experts say that the easy Biden wins were a sign Democrats were ready to unite for the campaign against Trump, and could increase pressure on Sanders, 78, to end his presidential bid. Democrats have worried about a possible repeat of 2016, when they believe his long, bitter primary battle with Hillary Clinton played a role in her upset loss to Trump.

In somber remarks broadcast from his home in Delaware, Biden said the coronavirus outbreak demanded leadership from the White House and appealed to the many young supporters drawn to Sanders. “Let me say especially to the young voters who have been inspired by Senator Sanders: I hear you. I know what’s at stake. I know what we have to do,” he said.

“Our goal as a campaign and my goal as a candidate for president was to unify this party and then to unify the nation.”

Biden’s victories were powered by a broad coalition of voters of every ideology and demographic, Edison Research polls showed. Young voters between ages 18 and 44 were the only major demographic that backed Sanders in Florida and Illinois, the polls found.

Florida, where Trump barely beat Mrs. Clinton in the 2016 general election by 1.2 percentage points in 2016, was the biggest prize of the day with 219 delegates. Biden was projected to have won 104 delegates to Sanders’ 36 in Florida and Illinois so far, with more than 100 still to be allocated.

Despite escalating concerns about the coronavirus outbreak that has shut down large public gatherings across the country, Edison Research estimated Democratic turnout in Florida at 1.85 million – more than the 1.7 million who voted in 2016 and 1.75 million in 2008.

A majority of voters in all three states trusted Biden more than Sanders to handle a major crisis, Edison Research polls found in a sign the deepening health crisis has helped increase Biden’s appeal as a steady and experienced hand.

They also found seven of 10 voters in all three states believed Biden had the best chance of beating Trump, a crucial factor in this year’s Democratic race where electability has been the top priority for many voters.

Because of the coronavirus, Edison Research, which normally conducts exit polls, spoke by telephone to early voters and others who planned to vote.