Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., wipes his nose during the Democratic presidential primary debate at CNN Studios, Sunday, March 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Bernie Sanders was trying to determine his next moves on Wednesday, after Joe Biden swept to victory in Florida, Illinois and Arizona and seized a commanding lead in a Democratic presidential race upended by the coronavirus.
The Vermont senator’s campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, said Sanders “is going to be having conversations with supporters to assess his campaign.” But Shakir also suggested his candidate is no hurry to make any decisions about dropping out, noting that “the next primary contest is at least three weeks away.”
More immediately, Sanders “is focused on the government response to the coronavirus outbreak and ensuring that we take care of working people and the most vulnerable,” Shakir said in a statement.
Even if Sanders ultimately decides to keep running, however, he has little hope of catching Biden — especially in a political world turned as upside down as much of the rest of society amid efforts to combat the spreading virus, which has killed at least 115 people in the United States.
Neither candidate is traveling or holding campaign rallies, and much of the electorate has been staying home. Indeed, Biden’s third big night in as many weeks on Tuesday came amid tremendous uncertainty about how an already severely disrupted Democratic primary will proceed.
Polls were shuttered in Ohio, and election workers and voters reported problems in the three states where primaries went forward, all of which Biden easily won. The former vice president now seems on a glide path to the nomination, his delegate lead over Sanders nearly insurmountable. Top Democratic leaders and donors have also increasingly lined up behind Biden as the best option to square off against President Donald Trump in November.
Using a livestream to address supporters from his home state of Delaware, Biden seemed ready to move past the primary. He paid tribute to the Vermont senator for advancing key issues including affordable health care and combating climate change.
“Sen. Sanders and his supporters have brought a remarkable passion and tenacity to all of these issues. Together they have shifted the fundamental conversation in this country,” Biden said. “So let me say, especially to the young voters who have been inspired by Sen. Sanders, I hear you. I know what’s at stake. I know what we have to do.”
With the exception of North Dakota and the Northern Mariana Islands, Sanders hasn’t scored a victory since Super Tuesday on March 3. He made no moves to contact Biden immediately after Tuesday’s results, according to people familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for the candidates. During online remarks before most results were in, Sanders said little about the future of the race.
Also Tuesday, Trump formally clinched the Republican presidential nomination after facing minimal opposition. But much of the action was on the Democratic side, where higher vote totals in some key states suggested enthusiasm that even the coronavirus couldn’t contain. Turnout in Florida’s Democratic primary surpassed the 1.7 million who cast ballots four years ago.