With Illinois boost, Biden poised to clinch nomination as coronavirus reshapes campaigns ahead

Biden’s Illinois landslide victory helped by the overwhelming support of African American voters and with a strong suburban Chicago showing.

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Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden Holds Virtual Town Hall, As Public Gatherings Are Curtailed Due To Coronavirus

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden holds a virtual town hall as public gatherings are curtailed due to coronavirus.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Joe Biden came closer to clinching the Democratic nomination when he easily beat Bernie Sanders in Illinois, Arizona and Florida on Tuesday, with the coronavirus pandemic raising questions of whether Illinois will switch to a mail-in ballot and if the July nominating convention in Milwaukee will be revamped — or even held.

Biden’s Illinois landslide victory came with the overwhelming support of African American voters and with a strong suburban Chicago showing.

“Our campaign has had a very good night,” Biden said speaking to a camera in Wilmington, Delaware. With the nation in crisis, Biden was not about to take a victory lap. Anyway, Biden tactically does not need to rub it in. He wants Sanders genuinely on his side.

Sanders needed an overwhelming turnout among his base – voters under 39 – and he was likely hurt by the coronavirus spread closing college campuses across Illinois.

Biden offered an olive branch to Sanders — and his army of young supporters — when he said, “I hear you.”

A NBC survey — not an exit poll — gauged that in Illinois, Biden picked up 70% of black voters to 27% for Sanders. Sanders almost bested Hillary Clinton in 2016 with the backing of non-college educated whites; in 2020, Biden picked up 63% of that blue collar vote to 31% for Sanders.

Sheila Nix, the Biden Illinois campaign chair, told the Chicago Sun-Times, “Joe Biden won in Illinois because voters like Joe Biden and have known Joe Biden for many years. In addition, the campaign was well prepared by getting their supporters out early to vote and using the vote-by-mail option” even before the devastating health and economic impacts of COVID-19 fully unfolded.

Coronavirus infections exploded in the final days of the Illinois primary, previewing this new era forced on us of no-touch, social distancing campaigning.

The campaigns of Biden, the former vice president, and Sanders, the Vermont independent senator, immediately pivoted to “virtual” events in Illinois and used their staff and volunteers to contact voters via various forms of social media.

The age of door knocking is over.

“We worked hard at adapting to the situation that we were facing,” said Nix, an ex-chief of staff for former second lady Jill Biden.

Ohio at the last minute decided to cancel its Tuesday vote. There are more primaries in the weeks and months ahead. In-person voting may be doomed.

“Every state is going to have to have a plan on how to conduct elections by mail,” Democratic strategist Tom Bowen said.

Freshman Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill., — who faced no primary opponent Tuesday — said he has retooled his general election campaign against former state Rep. Jeanne Ives, who won the 6th Congressional District GOP primary.

”This week alone, my campaign held three virtual live pop-up events. We’re also increasing the toolkit of campaign volunteering activities folks can do from home that go beyond phone banking, including interactive opportunities for training and discussions.

“We’ve always supported increased access to voting, and we believe mail-in voting should be expanded to all states,” Casten said.

Even without an official change, Democratic political strategist Pete Giangreco said, “I think we’re going to find a lot more investment in campaigns, mailing people applications and trying to get people to go digital to order the mail-in ballot online.”

The Democratic National Convention is scheduled to run in Milwaukee between July 13-16. With much of the nation on a lockdown, the convention may be at risk — either for health or economic reasons.

“I don’t think the Democratic Party has a real need to gather people physically,” Bowen said.

In 2016, Sanders did not quit until the convention. How Sanders exits is not clear. On Tuesday, before Biden spoke, Sanders delivered a subdued live-streamed speech with his coronavirus proposals. Curiously, he omitted a reference to Illinois, Florida, Arizona or Biden. Sanders needs some time.

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