Biden, Sanders, in Illinois ‘virtual’ race with real primary results on Tuesday

Technical glitches plagued Biden’s “Illinois Virtual Town Hall” on Friday, organized after Biden axed a Chicago rally and two fundraisers because of the coronavirus crisis.

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Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden at his virtual town hall.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, held a virtual town hall after canceling a planned Chicago rally due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Ahead of the Illinois primary on Tuesday, the Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump election drives have been transformed into virtual campaigns by the coronavirus threat.

Technical glitches plagued Biden’s “Illinois Virtual Town Hall” Friday night; the event was meant to replace a Chicago rally and two fundraisers canceled as the outbreak swelled to a national emergency.

Had the former vice president come to Chicago, he also was contemplating dropping by some St. Patrick’s Day festivities; but none of that was happening, due to the spreading pandemic.

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Instead, Biden was in Delaware, with an Illinois flag in the background, for the online session. He keyed his opening remarks to his plans to deal with the outbreak, then took questions from supporters.

Illinois’ Democratic senators, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, joined Biden in an audio feed at the top – but Duckworth did not speak because of technical issues. Biden was joined for a bit by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who served during the Obama administration.

At the end Biden – who paced for some of this – said he was “sorry this was a disjointed effort here.”

Earlier on Friday, Biden did conduct a conference call with donors – since all actual in-person fundraising events have been scratched.

One of the many political consequences of the coronavirus crisis will be the lack of exit polls from the upcoming Tuesday presidential primary votes in Illinois, Arizona, Florida and Ohio. ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC use the in-person polls to help declare a winner before the official results are in and learn why voters made their decisions.

There are no Illinois primary presidential events to cover in this last weekend before the vote because of the local and national state of coronavirus emergencies.

Pete D’Alessandro, Sanders’ Illinois state director said, “We really just couldn’t justify getting 50 people into a small room to train them and get them out and canvass, with the crisis. So one by one, the type of things we were would normally do, we pulled down, for all the right reasons. You can’t expose your people to that. You got to care about them.”

He added: “This type of crisis is obviously going to affect turnout.”

Sanders’ strongest supporters, polls show, are voters under 30. It’s hard to get them to vote.In Illinois, Sanders, who needs an overwhelming turnout to beat Biden, will be hurt if his student vote is now scattered because of campus closures.

Given how life in the U.S. has ground to a coronavirus halt, Sanders’ big rally last Saturday in Grant Park seems to me today a distant memory.

The biggest event before the Tuesday presidential votes in the four states will be the one-on-one debate between Sanders and Biden on Sunday night.

Ahead of Tuesday, Sanders, the Vermont independent senator, scratched rallies in Springfield and Aurora.

President Trump’s trademark giant rallies — his incredibly effective political organizing tool —have been defanged by the coronavirus.

His re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee announced Friday that going forward, they will use “unprecedented virtual and digital campaign tools” during the coronavirus outbreak.

At stake in Illinois on Tuesday will be 155 pledged delegates — 101 elected from the 18 Illinois congressional districts and 54 allocated based on the statewide vote.

The website fivethirtyeight.com, analyzing the Illinois vote, forecast that “in 80% of simulations,” Biden “wins between 91 and 115 delegates. He has a 99 in 100 ... chance of winning the most delegates, much better than the second most likely winner, Sanders, who has a 1 in 100.”

In 2016, Hillary Clinton, with a boost from voters in Chicago and suburban Cook County, barely beat Sanders, earning 79 delegates to Sanders’ 77.

In the final week of his 2016 Illinois campaign, Sanders attacked Clinton because she was backed by the then-unpopular-now-former Mayor Rahm Emanuel. It was a clever way of appealing to African-American voters in Chicago.

As I reported after the 2016 election, Illinois exit polls showed Clinton secured the overwhelming support — some 70 percent — of African-American voters. In 2020, with the coronavirus shutting down the exit polls, this type of data may be hard to know.

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