WASHINGTON D.C.: Joe Biden seized control of the Democratic nomination race Tuesday with big primary wins in Michigan and other states pointing to a crushing advantage over leftist Bernie Sanders in the contest to battle President Donald Trump.
Addressing supporters in Philadelphia as his victory took shape, Biden declared on national television that he would lead “a comeback for the soul of this nation.”
And he reached out to supporters of his sometimes bitter rival Sanders, telling them “we share a common goal. Together we’ll defeat Donald Trump.”
Hours earlier, US networks projected a huge victory in Mississippi for Biden, reflecting his popularity among strategically vital African American voters. Then came Missouri.
Then, biggest of all, Michigan — one of the industrial Midwestern giants due to be a key battleground in the general election.
Three more states were counting votes — Washington, Idaho and North Dakota — but the triumph of former president Barack Obama’s vice president was secure.
Barring major surprises, Biden now eyes a clear path to becoming the Democrats’ candidate in the bruising and deeply divisive November polls.
The main question hangs over Sanders, a self-declared democratic socialist.
Will he fight on to the bitter end, as he did four years ago against the eventual nominee Hillary Clinton? Or is he set to bow out early?
US media reports said Sanders will not speak about the results on Tuesday.
But his national press secretary indicated he had no intention of pulling out, touting the candidates’ next debate on Sunday as the chance for America to “see Biden defend his ideas or lack thereof.”
Many Democrats blame the firebrand orator and would-be revolutionary for damaging Clinton just as she was struggling — ultimately unsuccessfully — against the Trump insurgency.
Adding to nerves in a country on edge after three tumultuous years under Trump, fears of the coronavirus epidemic prompted both campaigns to cancel election-night rallies.
Organizers of the upcoming television debate between Sanders and Biden likewise said they would take the extraordinary step of not allowing the usual live audience.
Trump’s campaign manager dismissed Tuesday’s voting, saying “it has never mattered who the Democratic nominee turns out to be.”
Both are “running on a big government socialist agenda” and Trump “is on an unstoppable drive toward re-election,” campaign manager Brad Parscale said.
For Biden, Tuesday’s six-state contest, coming a week after his surprise comeback in voting on Super Tuesday, demonstrated that his once shambolic campaign is in rude health and now ready to face Trump.
Michigan in particular — a key battlefield that Trump won in an upset in 2016 — was targeted by Biden as a place to put down a marker ahead of the November election.
Sanders had accused Biden of selling out to corporate interests and ignoring a passionate leftist base.
But the former vice president has insisted on steering a centrist line that he says can bring the divided country back together — and it appears to have paid off.
Banking on his credibility as Obama’s vice president, he has managed to get out an enthusiastic black vote.
But with stories of a hard-knock childhood in Pennsylvania and Delaware frequently featuring in his speeches, Biden also wants to recapture the blue-collar white voters that Trump successfully poached from the Democrats in 2016.
“Biden is putting together the traditional Democratic coalition, and that’s still a very powerful one,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of political history at Princeton University and media pundit.
In another boost, Andrew Yang became the latest of a string of former rivals for the Democratic nomination to endorse Biden.
As the candidate, however, Biden will face an intensely polarized landscape, as illustrated during a campaign stop early Tuesday.
Biden was speaking at an under-construction automobile plant in Detroit, when he was confronted by one worker, accusing him of planning to take away Americans’ firearms.
In the startling exchange, Biden struck back, telling the worker he was “full of shit” and insisting that he supports the constitutional right to bear arms.
“I’m not taking your gun away,” he said in the encounter, which Trump supporters quickly pointed to as evidence of Biden’s inability to stand pressure — but supporters saw as a show of mettle.
Voters came out under the growing shadow of the global coronavirus epidemic, which has infected over 900 people across the United States and killed 28.
Sanders and Biden called off customary election-night rallies — both planned in Cleveland, part of another Rust Belt state, Ohio, which votes next week — in line with public health warnings from state officials.
Their caution was at odds with Trump, who has vowed to keep holding his campaign’s typically raucous rallies despite the concerns about large gatherings.
Washington state, which has borne the brunt of the crisis and also was going to the polls Tuesday, votes entirely by mail — an option some experts say should become more widespread as the epidemic grows.