3 More States Vote In Primary Elections Tuesday

Mar 17, 2020
Originally published on March 17, 2020 5:26 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The coronavirus has scrambled so much of our lives, including the race for president. For starters, four states were supposed to be voting today, but just three did. Officials in Ohio worried about people voting in person, so they suspended the primary at the 11th hour. Voting went on in Florida, Illinois and Arizona. And NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow is here to bring us up to speed on how the primary season this year is unfolding so differently.

Hey, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: All right. So we should say that it's not just the states trying to figure out how to navigate the whole coronavirus situation. Candidates have had to change things up, too. Tell us how.

DETROW: Yeah. It's been exactly a week now since both Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden canceled rallies at the last second. Neither has had any big gathering since and no campaigning over the past week in any of the states voting today. Instead, you've seen both candidates giving speeches, doing press conference and holding virtual rallies and town halls.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

BERNIE SANDERS: Well, first of all, let me thank everybody for watching this. And we're going to continue doing these things 'cause this is where our campaign is right now. We're not out doing the rallies that I love doing.

JOE BIDEN: We're going to overcome this moment, but it's going to require us all to be prudent and proactive. Campaign events are no exception. That's why we're connecting virtually today. We're going to have to get better at the technical side of this.

DETROW: You know, the Sanders campaign has been good on the technical side. They've made livestreaming a priority all campaign and really seeing that pay off now. They had more than 5 million views of the various virtual events they did this week. A couple other points on this - campaigns are not doing traditional get-out-the-vote today - no door-knocking or things like that, which is notable but, of course, makes sense, given the circumstances. So really, over the past week, the only significant campaign event we've seen was that debate Sunday night, held in a TV studio with the candidates standing 6 feet apart.

CHANG: That's right. They were very vigilant about that. So all right. Despite these changes, voting is still going on in three states today, as we said, despite warnings about social distancing. Have the campaigns spoken about that at all?

DETROW: It was notable to me that neither campaign had a firm reaction either way on voting continuing or not continuing. Both issued statements saying, in effect, people should be safe. They should do what makes them feel comfortable. Voting's important, but don't put yourself in danger. The Sanders campaign put out a statement that said, we believe going to the polls amid the coronavirus outbreak is a personal decision. Turnout is going to be a huge question, given these circumstances.

CHANG: Yeah.

DETROW: It was interesting. This afternoon, the Biden campaign put out a memo preemptively arguing the vote today will be representative, pointing especially to high early voting totals in Florida and Arizona. We have seen the Sanders campaign keep tabs on voting problems popping up in Illinois, but notably no urgent statement about any of these problems.

CHANG: OK. Let's get to the actual contests now. Can you just give us a sense of what we will be expecting to happen tonight?

DETROW: It says a lot that we get to the actual contests about halfway through the segment.

CHANG: (Laughter).

DETROW: I mean, this is where we are right now.

CHANG: This is, like, the last third of the interview. OK.

(LAUGHTER)

DETROW: You know, the polls do show leads for Biden in Illinois and Arizona and especially in Florida. Florida is the biggest prize today, with 219 delegates. Florida really seemed like a rough state for Bernie Sanders all along, both in this primary and if he became the nominee - the general election - a lot of older voters, African American voters. And though he has done really well with Latino voters, many in Florida do not warm to democratic socialism and have made that very clear.

Biden has a delegate lead of about 150 right now. So if these polls are right - and that's always a big if - Biden would likely expand his lead tonight and raise further questions about how Sanders continues on, though there is a major wild card today, and that is how turnout will affect the result and what turnout actually looks like tonight. That'll probably be the main question we have as we watch results come in.

CHANG: OK. Now, I know things are changing by the day, by the hour, but can you give us an idea of what might be coming next on the primary calendar?

DETROW: As best as we can - we shouldn't expect any primaries until April at this point. Georgia was supposed to be next week. It has since moved back its primary. Five states have now moved, and more might. So the short answer is we really don't know, but certainly not for the next few weeks.

CHANG: All right. That is NPR's Scott Detrow.

Thank you, Scott.

DETROW: Thanks. Talk soon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.