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Biden Speaks After Primary Victories

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. addressed a small crowd after scoring primary victories in Missouri, Mississippi and Michigan.

Just over a week ago, many of the pundits declared that this candidacy was dead. Now we’re very much alive. And although there’s a way to go, it looks like we’re going to have another good night. It’s more than a comeback in my view, our campaign. It’s a comeback for the soul of this nation. This campaign is taking off and I believe we’re going to do well from this point on. And I want to thank Bernie Sanders and his supporters for their tireless energy and their passion. We share a common goal and together, we’ll defeat Donald Trump. We’ll defeat him together. Tonight we are a step closer to restoring decency, dignity and honor to the White House. That’s our ultimate goal.

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Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. addressed a small crowd after scoring primary victories in Missouri, Mississippi and Michigan.CreditCredit…Hannah Yoon for The New York Times
  • Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. prevailed over Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont with commanding victories in the Democratic presidential primaries in Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi and Idaho.

  • The results set Mr. Biden up as the clear favorite for the Democratic nomination. While Mr. Sanders cannot be mathematically eliminated in the delegate race on Tuesday night, his path to success has narrowed to a sliver.

  • Mr. Biden struck notes of unity in a speech in Philadelphia, thanking Mr. Sanders and his supporters “for their tireless energy and their passion.” He added, “We share a common goal, and together, we’ll defeat Donald Trump.”

  • Mr. Sanders has a chance to make up some ground in North Dakota and Washington State, which held nominating contests as well, but those races have not yet been called.

  • Both Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders canceled planned primary-night rallies in Cleveland amid coronavirus fears. Mr. Sanders, who is spending the evening in Burlington, Vt., will not speak tonight.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Jill Biden at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, following the primary results.Credit…Hannah Yoon for The New York Times

Mr. Biden emphasized unity in a speech delivered late Tuesday night in Philadelphia, acknowledging Mr. Sanders and the voters who back him, as well as several of his former rivals who have endorsed him in recent days.

“I want to thank Bernie Sanders and his supporters for their tireless energy and their passion,” Mr. Biden said at the National Constitution Center. “We share a common goal, and together, we’ll defeat Donald Trump.”

When Mr. Biden spoke, he had already captured Michigan, the biggest delegate prize of the day, as well as Missouri and Mississippi. It was another triumph for Mr. Biden after Super Tuesday last week, when he won 10 of 14 states, fueled by momentum from his romp to victory in South Carolina.

“It’s more than a comeback, in my view, our campaign,” he said. “It’s a comeback for the soul of this nation. This campaign is taking off, and I believe we’re going to do well from this point on.”

But his victories across the map came against a backdrop of increasing anxieties about coronavirus, and Mr. Biden struck a somber tone throughout his remarks as he sought to cast himself as an experienced leader prepared to confront crisis.

“At this moment, when there’s so much fear in the country and there’s so much fear across the world, we need American leadership,” he said. “We need presidential leadership that’s honest, trusted, truthful and steady.”

The virus threw off Mr. Biden’s plans to spend primary night in Ohio, which is one of four states with primaries next Tuesday. Earlier in the day, he spoke in Columbus about gun violence, and he was scheduled to hold a primary-night event in Cleveland. But that event was scrapped on Tuesday afternoon because of concerns over the virus. Mr. Sanders also canceled a rally planned for Tuesday night in Cleveland.

After landing in Cleveland, Mr. Biden got back on his private jet and returned to the East Coast. Instead of holding a traditional primary-night party, his campaign set up a lectern and teleprompters at the National Constitution Center so he could address the news media. Mr. Biden’s campaign headquarters is nearby, and he was cheered on by staff members who came to see him give his remarks.

Mr. Biden won Michigan, grabbing a victory in a delegate-rich state that will be critical to Democratic fortunes in the general election.

The win is likely to add to the sense of inevitability surrounding Mr. Biden’s candidacy after his Super Tuesday victories, potentially fueling his ability to effectively wrap up the nomination at a time when Democratic voters are eager to turn their focus to President Trump.

Michigan looms large in Democratic psyches, a fairly reliably blue state that flipped to Mr. Trump in 2016, helping cost the party the election.

The loss is particularly striking for Mr. Sanders. A surprise upset in Michigan four years ago helped extend his insurgent campaign against Hillary Clinton. He spent much of the past few days in the state trying to re-energize his coalition of college-educated liberals and rural white voters, while denting enthusiasm for Mr. Biden among black voters, who make up a significant portion of the Democratic electorate.

The Biden coalition is coming into sharper focus after the second consecutive week of winning in a range of states and regions, from the South to the Midwest to the Northeast.

His bedrock support has come from black voters, whom he won overwhelmingly on Tuesday (including a remarkable 87 percent in Mississippi), according to exit polls. But in state after state, that was just the beginning.

Mr. Biden was carrying both moderate and “somewhat liberal” voters by significant margins. He was winning over women, especially college-educated white women. And he was crushing Mr. Sanders among older voters. And in a consequential shift, Mr. Biden was winning white voters without college degrees, who rejected Mrs. Clinton in 2016, not only in the primary but later in the general election.

Mr. Sanders has some demographic pockets of support. He continues to carry voters under 30 by wide margins, even in states he is losing. He was often leading among all voters under 45 years old.

But older voters were simply turning out in greater numbers.

In Missouri, voters under 45 years old were 41 percent of the electorate in 2016; those same voters accounted for only 30 percent of the electorate in 2020. The biggest jump, in terms of share of the electorate, came among Mr. Biden’s strongest group: those 65 or older, who were 35 percent of the electorate, up from only 22 percent four years ago.

In many ways, the Michigan primary in 2016 was just like the Michigan primary in 2020: Mr. Sanders versus an establishment Democrat. But the results could not have been more different.

In 2016, Mr. Sanders won the state narrowly over Mrs. Clinton, 49.8 percent to 48.3 percent. His victory was driven largely by white, rural voters: He won almost every county outside the Detroit metropolitan area.

But this time, with a little over half the votes counted, Mr. Sanders has only about 39 percent to Mr. Biden’s 53 percent. And if you want to know why he lost so much ground, look to the same voters who lifted him four years ago.

Mr. Biden is winning handily in the rural counties Mr. Sanders carried last time. In Luce County, on the Upper Peninsula, Mr. Sanders went from 62 percent of the vote in 2016 to 33 percent in 2020. In Grand Traverse County, he went from 65 percent to 42 percent.

White men, in particular, shifted dramatically. While Mr. Sanders still appears to have won that demographic, preliminary exit polls show him only three percentage points ahead of Mr. Biden, compared with his 25-point trouncing of Mrs. Clinton.

That same pattern held in Missouri, where Mr. Sanders lost by less than half a percentage point in 2016 but by double digits on Tuesday: Among white men, he went from a 23-point victory to a four-point loss.

And that points to a sobering possibility for Mr. Sanders: That in some places, his victories in 2016 were driven less by support for him than by opposition — some of it probably gender-driven — to Mrs. Clinton.

Mr. Sanders watched Tuesday night’s returns from his home in Burlington, Vt., and that’s where he’ll stay for the night. He will not address the public or reporters as he mulls his future in the 2020 Democratic presidential campaign. It is highly unusual for a major presidential candidate to skip an opportunity to address a national television audience on a primary night — even in defeat.

Mr. Sanders has no upcoming campaign events on his public schedule, though he is set to travel to New York Wednesday to appear on Jimmy Fallon’s late-night television show. He has also qualified for Sunday’s presidential debate in Phoenix, and his campaign said late Tuesday night he planned to attend.

But beyond that, the Sanders campaign team went uncharacteristically dark. Some of his chief supporters said privately that they expected him to re-evaluate his candidacy after the debate.

Mr. Biden won Mississippi and Missouri, picking up two quick victories nearly immediately after the first round of polls closed.

In both states, Mr. Biden was helped by his strong support among black voters, a crucial Democratic voting bloc. Mississippi is the most heavily African-American state in the country. In Missouri, nearly one-fifth of the state’s Democratic electorate is black.

Preliminary exit polls from Mississippi showed that black voters supported Mr. Biden in staggering numbers: 86 percent of them backed him, compared with 11 percent for Mr. Sanders. Among black voters over the age of 60, the numbers were even more stark: 96 percent supported Mr. Biden, compared with just 3 percent for Mr. Sanders.

This suggests that, despite a concerted effort, Mr. Sanders did not improve from his showing against Mrs. Clinton in 2016, when he won 11 percent of black voters in Mississippi and Mrs. Clinton won 89 percent.

Four years ago in Missouri, Mrs. Clinton’s victory over Mr. Sanders was narrow. But in Mississippi, she defeated him with more than 80 percent of the vote, taking all but five of the state’s 36 delegates.

The question this year was never whether Mr. Biden would prevail over Mr. Sanders in Mississippi, but about the size of his victory. The more delegates Mr. Biden wins there tonight, the harder he will make it for Mr. Sanders to mount a comeback on more favorable terrain.

Four years ago, Missouri was a squeaker. This year, it was called moments after the polls closed. And one of the biggest differences appears to have been among white voters, who sided with Mr. Sanders in 2016 but backed Mr. Biden in 2020.

Exit polls showed that Mr. Sanders carried 54 percent of white voters in 2016 while Mr. Biden carried 53 percent in 2020. Mr. Biden won a similar share of black voters as Mrs. Clinton did four years ago (69 percent compared to 67 percent).

One of the bigger swings came among white college graduates, whom Mr. Sanders carried with 57 percent support versus 43 percent for Mrs. Clinton in 2016.

This year, it was an inversion: Mr. Biden carried white college gradates with 56 percent support, while Mr. Sanders had only 37 percent.

While one of Mr. Sanders’s big arguments has been that his supporters are uniquely enthusiastic about his candidacy, preliminary exit polls of the states voting on Tuesday indicate that Mr. Biden’s supporters are equally or even more enthusiastic.

In preliminary exit polls from Washington, the same percentage of Democratic voters (35 percent) said they would be “enthusiastic” if Mr. Biden won the nomination as if Mr. Sanders won. And polls from Missouri found that significantly more people would be enthusiastic if Mr. Biden won: 45 percent, compared with 31 percent for Mr. Sanders.

Conversely, about twice as many people said they would be “upset” if Mr. Sanders won (16 percent in each state) as those who said the same about Mr. Biden (8 percent in Missouri and 9 percent in Washington).

Voters in both states indicated that they trusted Mr. Biden to handle a crisis better than Mr. Sanders: 61 percent to 27 percent in Missouri, and 46 percent to 27 percent in Washington. That is an argument Mr. Biden’s campaign has been leaning hard on, especially as the coronavirus crisis escalates.

The preliminary polls in Washington, Missouri and Mississippi also found that a majority of voters were more concerned with nominating a candidate who they believed could beat President Trump than one who agreed with them on major issues.

The exit polls in Michigan are unreliable because they did not include absentee voters.

As has become a pattern, there is a huge generational gap in the results so far: Older voters are overwhelmingly supporting Mr. Biden, younger voters are overwhelmingly supporting Mr. Sanders and there just aren’t enough young people voting to give Mr. Sanders a chance.

In Missouri, for instance, preliminary exit polls show that voters younger than 45 supported Mr. Sanders by a margin of 47 percentage points. By contrast, voters 45 and older went for Mr. Biden by 43 percentage points. But the younger group made up only 30 percent of the electorate, while the older group accounted for 70 percent.

The breakdown was similar in Washington (a 35-point margin for Mr. Sanders among the younger group, which made up only 29 percent of voters, and a 27-point margin for Mr. Biden among the older group, which accounted for 71 percent) and in Michigan (a 41-point margin for Mr. Sanders in the younger group, and 38 points for Mr. Biden in the older group).

There are some exceptions: In Mississippi, for instance, Mr. Biden’s victory was so sweeping that he won both age groups by comfortable margins. But the age gap has held pretty broadly across the states that have voted so far, and it speaks to one of the fundamental challenges of Mr. Sanders’s campaign.

Mr. Sanders has always relied on the enthusiasm of young voters for his candidacy, and his general-election argument depends explicitly on his ability to turn those voters out. And so far, they just haven’t done so in anywhere near the numbers he needed them to.

In the first major cancellations of the presidential campaign because of concerns about the coronavirus, Mr. Sanders and Mr. Biden both called off primary night campaign events Tuesday as they awaited the results of voting in six states.

“We are heeding the public warnings from Ohio state officials, who have communicated concern about holding large, indoor events during the coronavirus outbreak,” said Mike Casca, a Sanders campaign spokesman. “All future Bernie 2020 events will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”

The Biden campaign also canceled its evening event in Cleveland, “in accordance with guidance from public officials and out of an abundance of caution” Mr. Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, said.

No live audience. No spin room. Virtually no traveling members of the press.

This is a presidential primary debate in the age of coronavirus.

CNN and Democratic officials announced on Tuesday that “at the request of the campaigns and out of an abundance of caution,” Sunday’s highly anticipated Democratic debate in Phoenix would be a significantly pared-down affair.

The live audience — whose jeers and cheers can be a major variable for the candidates onstage — will be missing. Instead, Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders will debate each other one-on-one for the first time inside a virtually empty theater, joined only by a handful of moderators and television crew members.

National Primary Results Map: Where Biden and Sanders Have Won

See where Biden and Sanders have made the biggest wins of the 2020 Democratic primaries

On the morning of the Michigan primary, Mr. Biden swore at a man during a heated exchange about guns while visiting an auto assembly plant under construction in Detroit.

Mr. Biden was shaking hands and taking pictures with workers when one man accused him of trying to “take away our guns.”

“You’re full of shit,” Mr. Biden responded, adding, “I support the Second Amendment.”

Mr. Biden noted that he was a gun owner and said, “I’m not taking your gun away at all.” Later on in the exchange, he told the man, “Don’t be such a horse’s ass.”

Mr. Biden has occasionally sparred with voters. At a campaign event in Iowa in December, he angrily lashed out at a man who raised questions about his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine, calling him a “damn liar.” After the man said Mr. Biden was too old to be president, Mr. Biden suggested the man do push-ups or go running with him.

These kinds of exchanges could cut two ways for Mr. Biden. Some voters might see it as a troubling display of anger, undermining his efforts to cast himself as a steady, measured leader. Others have said they approve of Mr. Biden responding forcefully to attacks; they have urged him to show more vigor ahead of a possible showdown with the president.

Reid J. Epstein, Nicholas Fandos, Katie Glueck, Michael M. Grynbaum, Astead W. Herndon, Thomas Kaplan, Lisa Lerer, Jonathan Martin, Jeremy W. Peters, Stephanie Saul and Matt Stevens contributed reporting.

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