Biden grip on Democratic nomination tightens with big wins

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DETROIT, March 11, 2020 (AFP) – Joe Biden took a vice-like grip on the
Democratic nomination race Tuesday with big primary wins in Michigan and
other states confirming his growing advantage over leftist Bernie Sanders in
the contest to take on President Donald Trump.

First US networks projected a huge victory in Mississippi for Biden,
reflecting his popularity among strategically vital African American voters.
Then came Missouri and, biggest of all, Michigan — one of the industrial
Midwestern giants due to be a key battleground in the general election.

“Thank you Michigan!” tweeted Biden, still waiting for results from three
more states holding primaries before the night was over.

Barring major surprises, Biden now eyes a strong path to becoming the
Democrats’ candidate in the bruising and deeply divisive November polls.

But if the veteran centrist and former vice president under Barack Obama
might increasingly shift focus on trying to make Trump a one-term president,
Sanders’ next step remains a big question.

Will he fight on to the bitter end, as he did four years ago against the
eventual nominee Hillary Clinton? Or will he bow out early?

Many Democrats blame the uncompromising, self-declared democratic socialist
for subjecting Clinton to friendly fire 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 a live television debate scheduled Sunday, pitting the fiery
Sanders and the moderate Biden, likewise said they would take the
extraordinary step of not allowing the usual live audience.

– ‘Powerful’ coalition –

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 — an industrial giant 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 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.

Early Tuesday, Biden began his final push by meeting workers at an under-
construction automobile plant in Detroit, where he received cheers but also
was confronted by one worker.

In a startling exchange, the worker, wearing a construction helmet and
reflective vest, accused Biden of seeking to take away Americans’ firearms.

“You’re full of shit,” an angry Biden shot back, 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.

“Gimme a break, man,” Biden added.

– Coronavirus fears –

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 precaution is at odds with Trump, who has vowed to keep holding his
campaign’s sometimes raucous rallies despite the concerns.

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.

Idaho and North Dakota were also voting. – ‘Get 45 out’ –

Artist and designer Cecilia Covington, 61, was the first person to vote in
Precinct 123 in downtown Detroit, braving the drizzle as she arrived at
Chrysler Elementary School to vote for Biden.

“When he wasn’t doing well in the polls I was really concerned,” she said,
adding that his stunning comeback on Super Tuesday “put my confidence back.”

“We’ve got to get ’45’ out of office,” she said, referring to the current
president.

On Super Tuesday, Biden won 10 out of 14 states that voted, giving him a
healthy lead even before the latest round of primaries.

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