Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders vie for 3 delegate-rich states while voters deal with coronavirus

Delegates choose the Democratic party’s nominee. CNN political director David Chalian breaks down the process for how each candidate is awarded delegates.

Voters in Arizona, Florida and Illinois went to the polls Tuesday at a time when state and local officials are clearly conflicted about the ethics of asking Americans to leave their homes as many are anxious and self-isolating in an effort to slow the movement of novel coronavirus.

Amid anecdotal reports of low turnout and hand sanitizer shortages, Tuesday’s contests unfolded under a cloud of uncertainty at the same time that the number of reported coronavirus cases continued to grow by hundreds every hour.

In the states that are voting on Tuesday, former Vice President Joe Biden is heavily favored over Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a pattern that has been largely unchanged since Biden began his comeback in South Carolina on February 29 and then notched victories in 15 states over the two Super Tuesday contests.

In Florida, where the most delegates are at stake on Tuesday, Biden led with 66% to Sanders’ 22% in a recent University of North Florida poll — showing his potential to increase his count in the delegate-rich state as results come in Tuesday night. The former vice president has also been posting double-digit leads in Illinois and a smaller advantage in Arizona, where Sanders may be able to once again show his edge among Latino voters.

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In recent weeks, the two remaining contenders have both tried to convince voters they would be the most competent leader in this time of crisis — with Sanders arguing that the coronavirus disruptions have underscored the fragility of the social safety net.

But preliminary primary polling suggests voters are more comfortable with Biden, a finding that underscores the rising hurdles for Sanders. Some 6 in 10 voters in both Arizona and Illinois said they trusted the former vice president to handle the crisis over Sanders, according to preliminary findings in CNN’s primary polling. In Florida, 7 in 10 voters said they trusted Biden over the Vermont senator to handle a crisis.

Majorities of Democratic voters in all three states said their top concern was defeating President Donald Trump. In the battleground state of Arizona, about 7 in 10 voters said they are angry about the Trump administration. The CNN primary polls were conducted by Edison Research for the National Election Pool; they were based on telephone polls conducted before Election Day.

The potential recession is also a top of mind for Americans. In Illinois, many voters said they were concerned about the direction of the economy. About half of voters in Illinois said they were very worried about the direction of the nation’s economy.

Ohio had also been slated to vote on Tuesday, but Republican Gov. Mike DeWine took drastic measures after a judge denied his request to move the primary to June. DeWine maneuvered around the courts by having Ohio Health Director Dr. Amy Action order a shutdown of the polls due to the public health emergency.

“It was simply untenable for us to continue telling Ohioans, go to the polls. So the governor made a difficult but ultimately the right decision,” Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said on CNN’s “New Day” Tuesday.

He noted that state officials have asked people over 65 to stay in their homes and that the primary would be postponed until June 2.

“Under those circumstances, there was no way that in good conscience we could order an election — and certainly not a legitimate election — given that we were telling a large portion of the population that they should not come to the polls,” LaRose said.

The Ohio Democratic Party called on officials to conclude the primary season earlier than June 2.

Georgia, Maryland, Kentucky and Louisiana have also moved their primaries to later dates.

Sanders and Biden have suspended their in-person campaign events and ordered aides to work at home. Sanders signaled in a tweet Tuesday that he was more concerned about the safety of individual voters than the overall results.

“While Arizona, Florida and Illinois are still voting today, going to the polls amid the coronavirus outbreak is a personal decision and we respect whichever choice voters make. If you do go to the polls, please see CDC guidance on keeping yourself safe,” he tweeted.

In his own tweet, Biden encouraged voters to follow all of the guidance on limiting the spread of the virus.

“Elections are happening today in Arizona, Florida, and Illinois,” the former vice president tweeted. “I encourage folks to vote by mail or curbside vote if you can. If you vote in person, please wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and stay 6′ from others in line.”

In a campaign memo, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, touted the level of early voting in Arizona, Florida and Illinois while noting that in-person voting is likely to be down on Tuesday.

Bedingfield said the number of ballots cast early in Arizona slightly already exceeded the total number of ballots cast in the 2016 primary. In Florida and Illinois early voting is up compared with 2016, she said — more than a million Florida voters have already cast ballots.

Noting Biden’s 160-delegate lead, Bedingfield argued that “it would take a drastic, historically incomparable swing for Senator Sanders to win more delegates than Biden today or to close the delegate differential.”

The delegate prize is significant in the three contests — with the states together accounting for 441 pledged Democratic delegates, 11% of the national total — but it was unclear how many people would show up to vote given the risks to themselves and others.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended no gatherings of 50 people or more over the next eight weeks; and the White House on Monday said Americans should not congregate in groups of more than 10, while older Americans were asked to stay home.

In Florida, at least 79 polling sites were relocated, largely to keep them away from the at-risk population in assisted living centers. In Maricopa County, Arizona — where 60% of the state’s population is concentrated — officials decided to close 80 polling locations in an effort to consolidate operations.

Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey said election leaders were “working overtime to ensure that voting is safe.” Secretary of State Katie Hobbs argued that the state needed to go forward with voting Tuesday, because the uncertainty would only increase in the coming months.

“There are thousands of workers in communities across the state that must continue the job of counting the ballots in the days following the election,” Hobbs said. “The longer we wait, the more difficult and dangerous this will become.”