Coronavirus: Next week's US Democratic primaries to proceed despite bug, Louisiana postponed

Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders speaks about coronavirus inVermont on March 12, 2020.
Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders speaks about coronavirus inVermont on March 12, 2020.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Louisiana on Friday (March 13) became the first US state to postpone its presidential nominating contest because of the coronavirus pandemic, while four states holding their primaries next week said those elections would go forward as planned.

The Southern state said it would reschedule voting in the run-up to the Nov 3 election because of the outbreak.

Officials there said they would postpone their scheduled April 4 primary to June 20 "to best protect the health and safety of Louisiana voters and voting officials," Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said at a news conference.

The four states holding their primaries on Tuesday - Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio - said in a joint statement they would proceed with their contests while taking steps to ensure public safety.

"Americans have participated in elections during challenging times in the past, and, based on the best information we have from public health officials, we are confident that voters in our states can safely and securely cast their ballots in this election, and that otherwise healthy poll workers can and should carry out their patriotic duties on Tuesday," election officials from the four states said.

"We're definitely voting. They voted during the Civil War. We're gonna vote," Florida Governor Ron DeSantis told reporters on Friday.

Louisiana's move poses a problem for the Democratic Party, which mandates all nominating contests must be held by early June or states risk losing delegates to the party convention in July.

Democratic front-runner Joe Biden's campaign urged states to hold votes as scheduled.

"As election officials working with public health officials are demonstrating throughout the country, our elections can be conducted safely in consultation with public health officials," said Kate Bedingfield, Biden's deputy campaign manager.

OFF THE TRAIL

Biden was scheduled on Friday to hold his first virtual town hall for Illinois voters after pulling back from in-person campaigning because of the coronavirus pandemic. His campaign declined to provide details about the online event, set to begin at 4pm CDT (5am on Saturday, Singapore time).

Biden and Democratic rival Bernie Sanders, both seeking to challenge Republican President Donald Trump, have taken themselves off the campaign trail for the time being while searching for new, creative ways to connect with voters.

The coronavirus has so far killed at least 40 people and sickened more than 1,600 across the United States, forcing schools to close, professional sports leagues to suspend or end their seasons, and many employees to work from home.

On Thursday, both Biden and Sanders called for a more aggressive response from Trump and the US government.

Biden's Friday town hall is not entirely unprecedented.

During Trump's impeachment trial in January, when senators running for president were forced to remain in Washington, candidates Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren held telephone events. Both have since left the race.

Biden has won over much of the Democratic establishment while stringing together wins in such states as Michigan, Texas and North Carolina, giving him a commanding edge in the contest over Sanders.

The four Tuesday contests could put Biden on an unstoppable path toward nomination at the party's convention.

Biden and Sanders will participate in a nationally televised debate on Sunday at CNN in Washington, held without a studio audience out of health concerns, allowing them a final chance to address voters in those states.

Even without traditional rallies, Biden has financial resources at his disposal. With new contributions pouring in, Biden's campaign is running TV ads in Florida, Illinois and Ohio. The campaign has ramped up spending on Facebook ads.

He also is backed by a super PAC - an independent political action committee that may raise unlimited sums of money - called Unite the Country. Another leading Democratic outside group, Priorities USA Action, said this week it would defend Biden against Trump's attacks, with the expectation he will be the nominee.