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Biden crushes Sanders in Florida and Illinois primaries

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Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden

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AFP

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has steamrolled rival Bernie Sanders in primary elections in Florida and Illinois.

Accelerating his momentum in the race, the former US vice-president trounced Mr Sanders in both states by wide margins.

Arizona also voted on Tuesday, though results are still being counted.

Mr Biden is the favourite to become the Democratic candidate who will face President Donald Trump in November.

Will Joe Biden’s record come back to haunt him?

What are the results so far?

With most Florida precincts reporting, Mr Biden led Mr Sanders by nearly 62% to about 23%, according to the Associated Press news agency.

In Illinois, with most precincts reporting, Mr Biden led the Vermont senator by 59% to 36%.

Florida was the biggest prize of the night, awarding 219 of the 1,991 delegates needed to secure the Democratic presidential nomination.

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Bernie Sanders did not drop any hints about the future of his campaign on Tuesday

Mr Trump won that traditional battleground state by 1.2 percentage points in the 2016 presidential election.

Mr Biden is hoping to build an unassailable lead in the race for the Democratic leadership after scoring victories in 16 of the last 21 state contests.

The former US vice-president’s triumph last month in South Carolina – his first ever primary win over three campaigns for president – revived his faltering campaign.

What issues mattered to voters on Tuesday?

According to opinion polling, most Florida voters said electability was a priority for them.

About three in four said Mr Biden would have a better chance of beating Mr Trump, a Republican. Just one in five said the same of Mr Sanders.

Older voters were more likely to say they supported Mr Biden.

Nearly half of Florida’s voters said Mr Sanders’ stances were too liberal.

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Media captionWhat unites these two bitter rivals?

How did the two candidates react?

Speaking from his home in Wilmington, Delaware, to comply with US anti-coronavirus advice against gatherings, Mr Biden said: “Our campaign has had a very good night.”

But he focused largely on the outbreak sweeping the US, striking a unifying tone as he said: “The coronavirus doesn’t care if you’re a Democrat or a Republican… we’re all in this together.”

Mr Sanders hosted an online address from Washington DC, but he did not drop any hints about the future of his campaign.

He instead talked about the coronavirus crisis, outlining proposals to address the pandemic, which he said would cost some $2tn.

One of his campaign officials said the candidate was not expected to speak publicly again on Tuesday night.

Game over for Bernie Sanders?

Democrats in three states may have just cemented the presidential nomination for Joe Biden.

Bernie Sanders is trailing in Illinois and losing Florida in a rout, where in one county he finished third behind Michael Bloomberg, who dropped out weeks ago.

He will fall even further behind in the national convention delegate count, as the primary season appears to be heading towards suspended animation, with multiple states delaying their contests until June.

Mr Sanders should have a long think about how long he wants to stay in this fight, even if he does have more than enough financial resources to carry on.

He is going to face growing calls from Democrats to gracefully bow out – something he did not do until the eve of the convention four years ago, much to the consternation of many Hillary Clinton supporters.

The bottom line for Mr Sanders may be evaluating what’s best for the movement he created.

Will staying in the race give him a continuing platform to talk about his issues and buy him time for a potential comeback?

Or will hanging around only increase the chances that he is relegated to an electoral afterthought?

What about President Trump?

Also on Tuesday night, the US president officially clinched the Republican party nomination with a win in the Illinois primary.

His victory had been a foregone conclusion in a contest where he faced only nominal opposition from a former Massachusetts Governor, Bill Weld.

Illinois’ delegates drove Mr Trump over the 1,276-delegate threshold required to become the party’s standard-bearer.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel congratulated the president on Twitter for “officially becoming the presumptive Republican nominee”.

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Media captionBiden curses Michigan voter who said he’s taking Americans’ guns.

How else is the coronavirus affecting election season?

Ohio was also due to hold a primary on Tuesday, but it cancelled the vote hours before polls were due to open, putting it off till June.

Voters in the three states that did head to polling stations on Tuesday encountered hand sanitiser dispensers and workers in surgical gloves.

Several other states have postponed their Democratic presidential primaries, including Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland and Kentucky.

The Democratic National Committee blasted Ohio for sowing “chaos and confusion” and urged remaining primary states not to follow suit.

But Puerto Rico, which is scheduled to hold the next Democratic primary, on 29 March, is also planning to reschedule.

Party grandees are encouraging states and territories to extend postal and early voting to reduce public exposure to the respiratory illness, rather than postpone voting.

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Media captionBiden will have to win over young voters like Alexis and Amira.

Who is getting Secret Service protection?

On Tuesday, the US Secret Service said it would this week begin providing full protection for Mr Biden. His codename will be Celtic, the same as when he was vice-president.

Mr Biden requested the guard after being repeatedly accosted by protesters on the campaign trail.

Two protesters rushed a stage in Los Angeles earlier this month and came within a stride of the candidate as he gave a victory speech.

Mr Sanders has not made a request for Secret Service protection.

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