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2020 Democratic Primary in Arizona, Florida and Illinois: What to Watch For

The Democratic primary race moves to Arizona, Florida and Illinois on Tuesday, with large numbers of delegates at stake for the party’s presidential nomination.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who is ahead of Senator Bernie Sanders in polling in all three states, could build an all-but-insurmountable lead in delegates from Tuesday’s contests.

The polls begin to close in Florida at 7 p.m. Eastern; all polls will be closed there at 8 p.m. Polls close in Illinois at 8 p.m. Eastern, and in Arizona at 10 p.m. Eastern.

These are the first primaries to be held amid the heightened fear and restrictions triggered by the coronavirus. The Trump administration has recommended avoiding groups of more than 10 people, raising questions about turnout. But many voters have already cast ballots early or by mail, including many older voters at risk to the virus.

Ohio was supposed to vote on Tuesday but the governor, Mike DeWine, who had sought to postpone the primary, said the state’s health director was closing the polls on the basis of a public health emergency. Mr. Biden led in polling in Ohio, too.

Mr. Biden currently has 894 delegates to 743 for Mr. Sanders.

As states and municipalities impose measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus, four more primary elections had been slated for Tuesday worth a combined 577 delegates, the third biggest haul available in the entire primary season. But on Monday, Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio announced that he was pushing for voting in the state to be extended to June 2 — with no in-person voting occurring Tuesday. Then a judge rejected that plan, leaving the status of Ohio’s election unclear just hours before voting was to begin.

The other states — Arizona, Florida and Illinois — were still planning to hold elections during a viral outbreak so severe that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended against any gatherings of more than 50 people across the country.

If the elections are successfully held, Mr. Biden is poised to do particularly well on Tuesday. All three states are places that Mr. Sanders lost to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race. And Mr. Biden has surged in the polls in the past several weeks. The biggest prize on Tuesday — Florida, with 219 delegates — is set up to be a particularly poor match for Mr. Sanders, with its older residents, and a Latino population less inclined toward his democratic socialist message.

Tuesday’s contests aren’t expected to be good for Mr. Sanders. There are large concentrations of older voters, black voters and suburbanites who have flocked to Mr. Biden in the states that have voted so far.

After losing Michigan by 16 percentage points despite going all-in on his campaign there, the Vermont senator faces the prospect of losing Arizona, Florida and Illinois by wide margins. He’s been far behind in public polling and, after in-person campaigning, has been shuttered since the emergence of the coronavirus and has had no public appearances besides Sunday night’s debate.

With even some allies now admitting that Mr. Sanders’s path to the nomination has narrowed to a shut, only a shocking upset in at least one state has the potential to change the trajectory of the 2020 presidential race.

Short of that, Mr. Sanders will be left in a state of suspended animation — far behind Mr. Biden in the delegate race with no upcoming primaries or caucuses to alter the state of the race, at least not until coronavirus concerns pass.

With in-person campaigning frozen indefinitely by the virus, the importance of advertising and free news media coverage is most likely going to be of heightened importance going forward.

A combined more than $21 million in television ads has been spent in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio — and in every state, Mr. Sanders spent more than Mr. Biden and his supportive super PAC combined. The priciest state, by far, is Florida, where Mr. Sanders had poured nearly $6 million and Mr. Biden spent $5.3 million, despite polling in March that has shown Mr. Biden with a large lead in the state. Mr. Sanders is the bigger spender online, too.

In the past seven days, Mr. Sanders has spent about $247,000 on Facebook ads in Illinois — nearly five times the $53,000 that Mr. Biden spent. It was a similar story across all four states, with Mr. Sanders ($106,000) far outpacing Mr. Biden (nearly $20,000) in Arizona and doubling him in Florida.

More than 380,000 Democrats in Arizona have already cast their ballots in the primary. Like other states in the West, Arizona Democrats are a diverse group — with white voters making up about half of voters, while Latinos make up about 36 percent and black voters account for about 9 percent of all voters, according to an analysis by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles.

While Mr. Sanders has done well among Latino voters elsewhere in the West, a poll released by Univision late last week indicated Mr. Sanders held just a five-point lead ahead of Mr. Biden.

In polling conducted earlier this month, voters indicated that their greatest concern was reducing health care costs, with roughly 60 percent saying they supported moving toward a system that “guarantees health care for everyone.”

Though Arizona Democrats have said they expect a record number of voters to cast their ballots by mail, the outbreak of the pandemic has unquestionably changed the atmosphere — many voters have said they prefer Mr. Biden because of his experience. But the electorate is likely to split along ideological lines, with Mr. Sanders’s supporters saying that the current crisis underscores the need for “Medicare for All.”

Arizona offered several emergency early-voting options as the coronavirus pandemic escalated.

Matt Grodsky, a party spokesman, said on Monday that early turnout alone might surpass the total turnout in the 2016 presidential primary race.

Many counties — including Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and Mesa, and Pima County, which includes Tucson — are also offering curbside pickup outside precincts Tuesday so that voters can turn in their ballots without having to enter crowded polling sites.

Officials said they had chosen not to postpone the primary in part because so many Arizonans vote early anyway.

“Safety procedures have been put in place at every polling location,” Mr. Grodsky said. “We believe that delaying the election would cause undue chaos to this election process.”

A video released by Gov. Doug Ducey and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said that those safety procedures included setting “regular intervals” for poll workers to wash their hands, and sanitizing voting equipment and other commonly touched surfaces. Voters will be asked to wash their hands both before entering the precinct and after leaving it.

Maggie Astor and Matt Stevens contributed reporting.

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