WASHINGTON (AFP) – Leftist Bernie Sanders was reviewing the future of his campaign for the White House on Wednesday (March 18) after Democratic rival Joe Biden soundly defeated him in the latest primaries and took a strong lead toward winning the Democratic presidential nomination.
With the global coronavirus epidemic forcing more states to postpone primaries and both candidates to halt public rallies and turn to virtual campaigning, former front runner Sanders was under pressure to bow out of the race and let Biden focus on the November election fight against President Donald Trump.
“The next primary contest is at least three weeks away,” said Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz Shakir in a statement. “Sen. Sanders is going to be having conversations with supporters to assess his campaign.”
Political moderate and former vice president Biden, 77, swept all three of Tuesday’s contests, building a solid lead in delegates to the party’s July nominating convention.
Biden handily trounced Sanders in each of Tuesday’s battlegrounds. In the biggest prize of Florida, Biden grabbed 62 per cent of the vote against 23 per cent for 78-year-old Sanders.
In Illinois, Biden topped 59 per cent to Sanders’ 36 per cent, and in Arizona, Biden came in almost 44 per cent to Sanders’ nearly 32 per cent, while former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has already withdrawn from the race, came in a distant third.
Biden has now won 19 of the 24 contests, with just over half to be held.
The victories underscored Biden’s position as the party’s front runner and the eagerness of Democratic leaders and party rank and file to come together around a moderate flag bearer, to challenge Trump.
According to a count by RealClearPolitics, Biden has racked up 1,153 delegates to Sanders’ 874, with 1,991 needed to capture the nomination.
Given Biden’s substantial lead in national opinion polls among Democrats and in many of the states yet to hold primaries, Sanders faces a very steep battle to overtake his rival.
Former Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill urged Sanders to drop out.
“I think it is time,” she told MSNBC. “Bernie’s going to have plenty of delegates and power to influence the platform,” she said, referring to the party’s policy principles to be declared at its July convention.
Biden said he was closer to securing the nomination and was building “a broad coalition” that the party requires to defeat Trump.
“The next president will have to salvage our reputation, rebuild confidence in our leadership, and mobilise our country and our allies to rapidly meet new challenges – like future pandemics. We need a leader who will be ready on day one,” he said in a tweet Wednesday.
From the White House, Trump taunted the Democrats, repeating his accusation that the party elite sabotaged Sanders – whom the president’s own campaign views as the weaker potential opponent in the November contest.
The Democratic National Committee “will have gotten their fondest wish and defeated Bernie Sanders, far ahead of schedule,” Trump tweeted.
“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!” he said, referring to Sanders’ failed fight for the nomination in 2016.
Trump also appeared to be attempting to rile up Sanders’ supporters, whose willingness to transfer their support to Biden could be crucial in the November contest.
Reversal of fortune
By all accounts it is an astonishing change of fortune for Biden, whose campaign was left for dead just one month ago after poor showings in early voting states.
Political analyst David Axelrod concluded that Sanders was a mortally wounded candidate.
“No Dem has ever come back from anything like this deficit,” tweeted Axelrod, chief strategist for Barack Obama’s two successful presidential campaigns.
Sanders has struggled against perceptions that he is too far left to defeat Trump.
He admitted as much last week when he said that Democratic voters have told him they back his agenda of health care for all and battling income disparities, but they were voting for Biden because the former vice president has a better chance of winning back the White House.
In Florida, voter Cristina Grand, 56, a psychologist originally from Venezuela, said Sanders lost Florida, home to tens of thousands of Cuban refugees, because he refused to criticise Havana and Fidel Castro.