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Biden or Sanders? Democrat primaries plunged into uncertainty after Ohio calls off vote

Joe Biden is in the lead but how the primaries will proceed from here has been thrown into uncertainty over coronavirus.

A voter in Steubenville, Ohio prior to the election there being called off.
A voter in Steubenville, Ohio prior to the election there being called off.
Image: Gene J Puskar/AP/PA Images

THE DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL primary in the US has become shrouded in uncertainty after Ohio called off today’s election just hours before polls were set to open due to the coronavirus.

Officials in Florida, Arizona and Illinois, however, said they would move forward with the vote as planned.

Not since New York City postponed its mayoral primary on the day of the 11 September 2001, attacks has an election been postponed in such a high-profile way.

Ohio governor Mike DeWine initially asked a court to delay the vote. When a judge refused to do so, the state’s health director declared a health emergency that would prevent the polls from opening.

The contests are playing out as the impact of the virus becomes more tangible, with schools closing across the country, workers staying home and restaurants and bars shutting.

2.51349529 Frontrunners to challenge Trump: Biden (left) and Sanders Source: PA Images

The rapidly shifting developments amounted to a kind of chaos rarely seen in an election season. And it may not end soon as some states that have presidential contests in the coming weeks have already moved to postpone them and others were being pressed to follow.

Campaign workers spent yesterday sifting through data and talking to contacts on the ground to assess the impact of the coronavirus on turnout in places that will hold elections today.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is moving closer to securing the Democratic presidential nomination, but could face a setback if the older voters who tend to support him do not show up.

His rival, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, can not afford to lose support from young voters, who have been his most loyal supporters.

The tumult has left the campaign in a state of suspended animation. In-person rallies have been replaced with sometimes-awkward virtual events.

Sanders, the last Democrat standing between Biden and the nomination, is not planning to drop out.

His campaign looked to have nowhere to go after a sizeable loss last week in Michigan, and another blow landed last night when Mr Biden was declared the winner of the primary in Washington state, giving him victories in five out of six states that voted last Tuesday.

Yet Sanders’s top advisers see no downside to staying in the race as they assess how the coming days and weeks unfold.

Sanders staged a virtual rally last night featuring himself, rocker Neil Young and activist actress Daryl Hannah.

He also released a video criticising Biden for suggesting as a senator that he would be willing to cut Social Security benefits — a line of attack he employed frequently during Sunday’s debate.

“I don’t have to tell anybody that we are living in a very unprecedented and strange moment in the history of our country,” Sanders said, urging supporters that it may be time to “rethink our value system, rethink many of the systems we operate under”.

Sanders’ team had expected Biden to do well in all four states set to vote on Tuesday.

But the Vermont senator has also cast some doubt about the entire process, saying no one should risk being infected while voting and noting that it was important “to make sure that everybody who wants to vote has the right to vote, and that may not be the case now”.

Still, Sanders faces an increasingly tough path to the nomination.

About half of the delegates in the Democratic primary have already been awarded and, if Biden has another big night today, he will extend an already large and perhaps insurmountable lead.

Sanders trails Biden by more than 150 delegates nationally, meaning he would need to win more than 57% of those yet to be allocated to clinch the Democratic nomination.

Biden appeared to keep his focus yesterday on winning the nomination, as he encouraged voters in a telephone town hall to participate in today’s primaries but to do so safely.

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