The former vice president was on course to expand his lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and cross the halfway mark toward the 1,991 delegates needed to clinch the nomination on the first ballot.
The primaries came as the coronavirus outbreak wreaked havoc on American life and sent the economy into a tailspin, although large numbers of votes had already been banked in the early voting period. Arizona polls were set to close later. Ohio postponed its primary at the last minute.
Below are some key takeaways from Florida and Illinois.
Biden closer to becoming presumptive nominee
In Florida and Illinois, the two biggest prizes on the map Tuesday, Biden decisively won men and women, white voters and non-white voters, college graduates and non-college graduates, liberals and moderates, married and unmarried voters.
“We move closer to securing the Democratic Party’s nomination for president,” Biden said in Wilmington, Delaware. “Senator Sanders and I may disagree on tactics, but we share a common vision.”
His lopsided margins suggest that many Democrats want the primary to be over. One of them is former Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
“The conversation is going to quickly turn to how and when does Bernie Sanders unite the Democratic Party,” McCaskill said on MSNBC. “I think it is time. And Bernie’s going to have plenty of delegates and power to influence the platform, because we all want to come together. So I do think the pressure is going to mount, especially at this time of crisis in this country, for the Democrats to unite behind clearly the voters’ preference.”
Bernie on the brink
One way Sanders knows he’s in trouble? When he’s losing “very liberal” voters in major states, as he did in Florida with 44 percent to Biden’s 48 percent. He lost “liberal” voters in Illinois by 44 percent to Biden’s 51 percent.
The defeat in Illinois was particularly disappointing; he came within 2 points of victory there in 2016.
It was difficult to find any positive signs for Sanders, except that he continued to win voters under 45 years old by large margins. His prospects have hinged on young progressives’ turning out in big numbers to outvote older moderates — but voters under 30, a core Sanders constituency, fell slightly from 2016 levels as a share of the electorate in Illinois and Florida.
Sanders’ hopes of turning things around now would hinge on his delivering massive wins in big coming states, although it’s not clear where he could do that.
The senator addressed the country on the coronavirus crisis in livestreamed remarks before polls closed. His campaign said he didn’t plan on speaking about the results Tuesday night. There was no indication that he’d leave the race, as many allies want him to stay in and use his leverage to nudge Biden toward more progressive policy positions.
Warren’s non-endorsement bit Sanders
Elizabeth Warren dropped out soon after Super Tuesday, but her non-endorsement continues to loom over the primaries. An endorsement of Sanders, her ideological soul mate, might have given him a fighting chance with college-educated white women, who were a core constituency for the senator from Massachusetts before she ended her campaign.
Instead, he got routed among white women with college degrees, losing them to Biden by 39 points in Florida and by 20 points in Illinois.
Florida voting high despite coronavirus
Thanks in large part to early voting and mail-in ballots, primary turnout in Florida was projected by NBC News to top 2 million, eclipsing the 2016 total of 1.7 million.
Shaquille Brewster contributed.