Washington, 18 March 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Former vice president Joe Biden was projected as the winner of three Democratic primaries late Tuesday, according to US broadcasters.
Biden was already leading in the delegate count, with left-wing Senator Bernie Sanders trailing by more than 150 delegates, and had been widely expected to solidify his lead and effectively make it near-impossible for Sanders to surpass him.
Fox News, CNN and NBC all declared Biden the winner in the states of Florida, Illinois and Arizona.
The three states pushed ahead with their primaries, marking the first elections taking place in the country amid extremely heightened concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.
A fourth state, Ohio, had also been scheduled to go to the polls. But tensions emerged between extraordinary health measures and the desire to maintain normal democratic functions.
Governor Mike DeWine and other state leaders ultimately cancelled the primaries, citing concerns by the top public health officials.
“To conduct an election at this time would force poll workers and voters to face an unacceptable risk of contracting COVID-19,” state health director Amy Acton wrote in the three-page order shared by DeWine.
Arizona encouraged people to vote by mail, and officials in Florida and Illinois were recommending hand-washing and moving polling stations out of assisted living homes for the elderly.
The federal government has issued guidelines against any gathering of more than 10 people, amid strong encouragement to stay home.
Florida officials insisted their primary can be done safely.
Florida, the third most populous state in the nation, was the largest prize of the night, and would have been followed by Ohio.
Louisiana and Georgia have said they will postpone their votes, which were scheduled for later in the cycle.
Biden and Sanders held a debate on Sunday night without an audience, much of which focused on how they would handle the coronavirus. Both were sharply critical of President Donald Trump.
This was the first debate between only two candidates, as the once large field of potential Democratic contenders has been winnowed down.
Sanders voiced concerns about holding the primaries, noting guidelines by health officials against large gatherings.