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Biden, Sanders Remarks Show How The Coronavirus Has Upended The Campaign

An election worker wears protective gloves during the Florida primary election at South Pointe Elementary School in Miami, on Tuesday.
An election worker wears protective gloves during the Florida primary election at South Pointe Elementary School in Miami, on Tuesday.
Credit Chandan Khanna / AFP via Getty Images
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For the third straight primary Tuesday, Joe Biden emerged as the winner.

But the country is in a vastly different state than it was just a few weeks ago, and as a result, the former vice president’s victory address on Tuesday night was hardly celebratory.

“Tackling this pandemic is a national emergency akin to fighting a war,” the Democratic front-runner said in prepared remarks from his home in Wilmington, Del.

There were no supporters grouped behind him waving signs. Instead there was Biden alone in front of a camera, speaking of common cause in the face of the coronavirus.

Biden won all three states that held primaries Tuesday, extending his already-substantial delegate lead over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and moving closer to securing the Democratic presidential nomination.

But Biden’s remarks, along with Sanders’ two hours earlier, underscored the extent to which the outbreak has upended and overtaken the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Sanders, who spoke before any polls had closed Tuesday, also delivered somber, straightforward remarks on the virus, calling on Americans to stand together.

“I don’t have to tell anyone viewing this program that our country and, in fact, the world are facing an unprecedented series of crises,” he said.

Sanders did not mention his increasingly challenging path to the nomination. Instead, he released a detailed proposal to respond to the coronavirus and asked viewers to submit feedback. His plan calls for at least $2 trillion in funding to, as his campaign put it, “prevent deaths, job losses, and economic ruin.”

Biden’s address was not completely devoid of politics. He talked about the “broad coalition” backing him, and said that while he and Sanders “may disagree on tactics, [we] share a common vision.” And Biden made a direct appeal to his opponent’s supporters, “especially to the young voters who have been inspired by Sen. Sanders: I hear you. I know what is at stake. And I know what we have to do.”

But mostly Biden and Sanders focused on the virus and how they’d respond as president. And their respective remarks were just the latest example in the last week or so of the presidential primary being eclipsed by the outbreak.

Here are five more:

  1. Four states were supposed to vote Tuesday, but at the 11th hour Ohio postponed its in-person voting until June 2, after officials declared a health emergency.
  2. The three states that did vote experienced confusion over shifted polling locations and staffing issues at the locations that were open.
  3. Several other states have delayed their primaries, so currently there’s no more presidential nomination voting on the calendar until April. And other states may delay voting as well, despite what the chair of the Democratic National Committee suggests.
  4. Biden and Sanders canceled rallies on March 10. They haven’t held one since, opting instead for virtual events. They’ve ditched in-person get-out-the-vote efforts, and their staffs are largely teleworking.
  5. Their one-on-one debate on Sunday night was moved to a TV studio without an audience. Biden and Sanders stood a CDC-recommended 6 feet apart and bumped elbows, rather than shake hands. (And the coronavirus dominated the debate as a topic of discussion.)

The outbreak, of course, is also deeply affecting Democratic voters and how they think about the campaign and the candidates. Clear majorities of primary voters in Florida and Illinois said they are “somewhat” or “very” concerned about themselves or a family member contracting the virus, according to AP VoteCast surveys.

The coronavirus — a pandemic, a national emergency — is scrambling so much of our lives at the moment. It’s no surprise it’s doing the same to the presidential race.

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