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Biden heads toward the Illinois primary with momentum on his side

The coronavirus crisis forced Biden to cancel a Friday Chicago visit. It won’t “have a negative impact,” Sheila Nix, the Biden Illinois campaign chair, told the Sun-Times.

Joe Biden Attends Rainbow PUSH Coalition Annual International Convention in Chicago last June.
Joe Biden attends the Rainbow PUSH Coalition Annual International Convention in Chicago last June. The African American vote is key in the Illinois primary set for Tuesday.
Scott Olson/Getty Images file photo

Even with the coronavirus crisis forcing Joe Biden to cancel a Friday Chicago visit, he heads toward the Tuesday Illinois Democratic presidential primary against Bernie Sanders with momentum on his side.

Biden pulled the two Friday fundraisers and a get-out-the-vote rally to be possibly replaced, his campaign said, with “virtual events.”

“I think while it would be great to speak to more voters, fortunately, most voters already know Joe Biden and are comfortable with Joe Biden so I don’t think it will have a negative impact,” Sheila Nix, the Biden Illinois campaign chair, told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Sanders, who attracted thousands in Grant Park last Saturday, was contemplating rallies in Springfield and Aurora on Friday or Monday, only to scrap them while still in the planning stages because of the coronavirus spread.

The decision to cancel was expected by Wednesday morning, given that Biden and Sanders scratched rallies in Cleveland, Ohio, on Tuesday night.

Biden’s Illinois campaign, newly energized and bolstered with his latest wins this week in Michigan, Missouri and Mississippi, is reveling in its new frontrunner status.

Buoyant Biden Illinois supporters gathered Tuesday night on an upper floor of the Old Crow Smokehouse, 149 W. Kinzie St., to watch the election results from the six states. Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, a new high profile Biden endorser, was there, wearing a Biden T-shirt.

Among those at Old Crow — and taking in the amazing Biden revival — was Nix, who was chief of staff for former second lady Jill Biden, and Chris Dunn, a longtime Democratic activist. The two are the nucleus of the Biden Illinois campaign efforts.

Nix was instrumental in reaching out and recruiting the Illinois followers of ex-South Bend Mayor Peter Buttigieg, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar after they dropped out of the race.

Dunn said Biden would do well “particularly downstate. And I would imagine in the suburban areas, too, these days. And, you know, maybe not quite as strong in some places in the city. But also, you know, in all the African-American communities and Latino communities all over the state. That’s our real base.”

Sanders barely lost the 2016 Illinois primary to Hillary Clinton, picking up 77 delegates to her 79.

Sheila Nix, the Biden Illinois campaign chair, and Chris Dunn, a longtime Democratic activist, are the nucleus of the Biden Illinois campaign efforts.
Lynn Sweet/Sun-Times

Clem Balanoff, the 2016 Illinois Sanders state director and the chair of its spin-off organization Our Revolution Chicago, told the Sun-Times on Wednesday that Sanders’ turnaround chance is the Sunday debate.

The debate — hosted by CNN and Univision in Phoenix — is the time for Sanders to explain his “positions and visions” and sharpen his contrast with Biden, Balanoff said.

An epicenter of the Illinois Biden presidential primary campaign — and one of several outposts — is the storefront home of the 2nd Ward Democrats at 1402 N. Ashland, where on Tuesday people were phone banking and planning the last week of the campaign.

The walls were decorated with Biden posters and with cutouts of Biden’s trademark aviator glasses.

“This is very much a delegate game,” Claudia Chavez, the Biden Illinois state director, said from her windowless office on Ashland. “We are focusing on areas where we have the most delegates available.”

Biden is ahead of Sanders in the delegate count — 670 to 574, with 1,991 needed for the nomination. Biden is outpacing Sanders in winning the African American vote according to exit polls. In Illinois, three heavily African American congressional districts — 1, 2, and 7, all with Chicago turf — account for 23 of the 101 delegates elected from the 18 congressional districts in the state.

The Biden campaign was initially considering holding its rally at Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Jackson Blvd., and then was scouting out a larger space.

Said Nix at Old Crow, “The one thing we want to avoid is complacency. I feel pretty good about him across the state right now.”