8.05pm (Melbourne time). And for the record, the final (barely) competitive day of primaries finishes with three big wins for Joe Biden: by twelve points in Arizona (where there are around 15,000 votes still outstanding), 23 points in Illinois and a massive 39 points in Florida, the day’s biggest prize.
For good or ill, he is now the candidate, and in seven and a half months (Covid-19 permitting) he will go head to head with Donald Trump.
4.35pm. I’ve returned from lunch to find that very little has changed. Arizona is now showing 60% counted (in reality, with the prepolls, it’s more like 95%) and Biden leads with 43.0% from Sanders on 30.3%. The fact that that’s Sanders’s best result for the day tells you all you need to know.
With 98% reporting in Illinois Biden has a 23 point lead, and in Florida, with everything in bar a smallish chunk of Palm Beach county, it’s 39 points. According to the Guardian, “#DropOutBernie” is trending on Twitter.
2.50pm. Meanwhile in Illinois, now with 89% in, the figures aren’t shifting: it’s Biden 59.0% to Sanders 36.3%.
2.45pm. With 6% of precincts in Arizona has already counted more votes than there were four years ago, so that’s a sign of how many were in the prepolls. Biden’s lead is basically unchanged, now 42.4% to 29.6%.
On that basis Biden will increase his lead in delegates by between another ten and fifteen, taking the gap to about 300, which is for practical purposes insurmountable.
2.25pm. And now we have Arizona figures. They’re better for Sanders than the other two, but still nowhere near good enough. Biden has been declared the winner with 42.9% against Sanders’s 29.9%. Nominally that’s on 3% of precincts reporting, but it also includes the prepolls so it actually represents most of the vote.
As with Florida (but less so, since there are many more prepolls), the totals for the candidates who are no longer in the race will drop off a bit as counting continues. Currently Michael Bloomberg has 10.9%. It must be dispiriting for Tulsi Gabbard to be running seventh, even though she’s one of only three remaining candidates.
1.30pm. The vast bulk of the vote in Arizona is in prepolls, and apparently by state law they can’t report results of those until an hour after the polls close, so don’t expect anything soon.
In the meantime, here (from Politico) is the passage from Biden’s victory speech where he reaches out to the Sanders camp:
Senator Sanders and I may disagree on tactics, but we share a common vision — for the need to provide affordable health care for all Americans to reducing income inequality to taking on climate change.
Senator Sanders and his supporters have brought remarkable passion and tenacity to these issues, and together, they have shifted the fundamental conversation in the country.
And let me say, especially to the young voters who have been inspired by Senator Sanders: I hear you. I know what is at stake. And I know what we have to do.
Our goal as a campaign, and my goal as a candidate for president, is to unify our party – and to unify our nation.
1.15pm. Still waiting on some numbers for Arizona. So far it could hardly have been a better night for Biden. He has won Florida by almost forty points (with 98% reporting), carrying every county: I can only find four counties (out of 67) where his margin was less than two to one. Sanders’s best result was in 40.0% in Alachua county.
Illinois is only a little less sweeping; Sanders leads in just one county, Champaign (home to the main campus of the University of Illinois), where he has 51.6%. Statewide it’s Biden 58.9% to Sanders 36.2%, now with 62% counted.
12.50pm. Polls close in Arizona in ten minutes, so we’ll see if Biden makes a clean sweep. Florida is almost done: with 97% counted it’s Biden 61.7% to Sanders 22.8%. And his lead in Illinois has increased a bit with time, now 58.2% to 37.1%, with 45% in.
12.10pm (Melbourne time). In terms of delegates, the Green Papers projects that Biden will pick up 160 in Florida and 91 in Illinois, as against 59 and 64 respectively for Sanders. That would take his overall lead up towards 290, with Arizona and its 67 delegates yet to come.
11.55am. Now up to 84% reporting in Florida and the numbers are very stable. Biden 61.5%, Sanders 22.7%, Bloomberg 8.8%, Buttigieg 2.4%. As on-the-day votes have gradually swamped the prepolls, Biden and Sanders have both improved slightly at the expense of the non-candidates, but their relative positions haven’t really shifted.
Illinois is now showing 9% reporting and it’s not as bad for Sanders, but it’s still pretty bad: Biden is ahead by almost twenty points, 56.9% to 37.6%. Sanders does at least have an early lead in two counties, whereas in Florida Biden is winning every one.
11.40am. There’s only 5% in, but the Times has now called Illinois for Biden. I thought coronavirus might have been impeding exit polls, but evidently they feel they’ve got enough data. On the returns so far he’s leading with 61.9% to Sanders’s 32.9%.
Can I again claim credit for having predicted two months ago that this would all be over by the end of March, at a time when that was not a popular position.
11.15am. And there are a few thousand votes in from one county in Illinois. For what it’s worth, Biden leads there by more than two to one, 64.4% to 28.1%.
11.10am (Melbourne time). Unsurprisingly, Florida has now been called for Biden. With 72% in, his lead is approaching forty points, 61.1% to 22.6%. Nothing in yet from Illinois, but five wards in Chicago are trying to keep polls open for an hour longer to compensate for earlier delays.
10.55am. In related news, Bill Scher at Politico has an interesting piece on Biden’s possible running mates, given that on Sunday he promised he would choose a woman. I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes the announcement early, to help reinforce the air of inevitability.
Scher’s top three, in order, are Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Tammy Baldwin. The betting market also has Harris as a warm favorite.
10.50am. It’s a fairly quick count in Florida, although as usual you get slightly different numbers depending on which website you look at. The New York Times now has 54% of precincts reporting, and Biden has widened the gap, with 60.3% to 22.7%. Sanders could really concede at that point, although no doubt he’ll wait at least until polls close in the panhandle.
Michael Bloomberg, who pulled out a fortnight ago, is running a quite credible third with 9.6%. That’s the power of early voting.
10.40am (Melbourne time). Polls have closed in most of Florida (the north-west corner is in a different time zone), and with 29.1% of precincts reporting Biden has a big lead, 59.2% to Sanders’s 22.0%. These will still largely be prepoll votes, as evidenced by the fact that “others” – that is, candidates who have already withdrawn – have 18.3% of the vote between them.
On Super Tuesday, Biden, whose support had surged in the final few days, did much better with votes cast on the day than with the prepolls. If Sanders is going to cause an upset (or even get close), he has to reverse that pattern. But Florida is the least likely of the three states for him to do it in; its demographics run solidly against him.
Most probably the networks will call this one as soon as the final polls have closed, in about twenty minutes.
As I (and others) have pointed out a few times, there was a big incentive this year (as distinct from, say, 2016) for the Democrats to settle on a presidential candidate quickly rather than drag the process out. Beating an incumbent president is never easy, and the party needs to put its divisions behind it and focus on the main game.
But a further reason has now been added in the shape of the coronavirus Covid-19, which is playing havoc with the latter part of the primary season. Having large numbers of people, many of them elderly, congregate in polling places and handle ballot papers, voting machines and other paraphernalia is just not a good public health move at the moment.
There were to be four primaries today (yesterday in the US), but one, in Ohio, has been postponed until 2 June – by which time the presidential contest should be a mere formality. The other three are going ahead: polls close in most of Florida in a few minutes time (11am in eastern Australia), followed by Illinois an hour later and Arizona two hours after that.
The rest of the calendar is up in the air. There was to be one big primary next week, in Georgia; that has been rescheduled to 19 May. Puerto Rico, which was to follow on 29 March, is to be deferred for four weeks. Other postponements and cancellations are likely: FiveThirtyEight has all the details.
But if Joe Biden does well today, none of that will matter much. On the latest estimates he leads by almost 160 delegates, with 918 to 759 for Bernie Sanders. The polls make him an unbackable favorite for today’s three contests, in which a further 441 delegates are at stake.
So unless Sanders can turn up something extraordinary today, it looks as if his race is just about over. But it’s been a season of surprises, so it’s worth watching today in case there might be one more still in store.
Updates to follow as results appear.