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What's Next For The Democratic Primary After Biden Consolidates Lead


Bernie Sanders is having conversations with supporters to assess his campaign. That is the word from his campaign today after the Vermont senator had his third straight week of lopsided, multistate losses to former Vice President Joe Biden. So where does the Democratic primary go from here? We are joined by NPR political correspondents Scott Detrow and Domenico Montanaro.

Hello to both of you.



SHAPIRO: Scott, the campaign is having conversations. What else are they saying today? And how do you interpret that?

DETROW: Well, we got a statement this morning from Sanders' campaign manager Faiz Shakir saying Senator Sanders is going to be having conversations with supporters to assess his campaign. Shakir also pointed out the next contest is not for several weeks, at minimum. With primary dates continuing to shift, we're not even sure, so there's no rush to make a decision. But that also makes it that much harder for Sanders to turn this race around. The path to the nomination has become increasingly implausible (ph) for Sanders after three straight weeks of big wins for Joe Biden. So Sanders is assessing his future, and the campaign, in the meantime, is pausing its digital ads.

Sanders does, of course, have a day job - a senator - and dealing with important stuff right now, so he's focusing on the federal coronavirus response. He laid out a lot of specifics in a speech last night that he wanted to see, including $2,000-a-month payments to every American and a halt on all evictions and foreclosures. Right now, Bernie Sanders has a lot of clout within his caucus as major legislation is being passed, so I think there's an argument that he doesn't want to give up the clout he has, if nothing else, in this race.

SHAPIRO: OK, so you're saying Sanders faces an increasingly implausible path. Just to get specific, last night, Biden won Florida, Illinois, Arizona. So, Domenico, what is the overall delegate picture? What does it look like for Sanders right now?

MONTANARO: Well, Joe Biden is well ahead. He has 1,180 delegates overall to Bernie Sanders' 884 in our latest count, and that's going to change. But that right now is a 296-delegate lead for Joe Biden. And because of how Democrats allocate their delegates proportionally, it makes it very, very difficult for Bernie Sanders to make a comeback.

Put it another way - to put it in perspective, Biden needs roughly 46% of all remaining delegates to hit that magic number of 1,991 to become the Democratic nominee. Sanders needs 63%. That means he would not only need to win in states ahead that, by the way, favor Biden, but win them in huge margins - 63-37 or more. And with states canceling primaries until the earliest, you know, coming up in April, this campaign's frozen in place.

SHAPIRO: So given those numbers, Scott, explain what Sanders' goal is in prolonging this primary and also what Biden might do to try to win over Sanders supporters if he starts to pivot to a general election.

DETROW: Even though Sanders went after Biden pretty hard in the debate last week, trying to make some inroads, he's done a lot of things the last few weeks that have signaled that maybe he's more interested in seeing Biden shift on policy areas. He gave a speech where he ticked off a lot of specific policies - health care, climate change, other things - and kept saying, what are you going to do, Joe?

So Biden, I think, making a policy overture could go a long way moving forward. He's already done it to some degree. He recently backed free college tuition for people who make under $125,000. The response from Sanders and his camp was basically, that's nice, but there's a lot more to do. So maybe a big area like climate change could be an area where Biden could take a few steps towards Sanders. That's a plan where Sanders had the most aggressive of all the candidates.

Notable moment last night when Biden spoke after winning in Illinois, Arizona and Florida - he made a direct appeal to Sanders supporters.


JOE BIDEN: Senator Sanders and his supporters have brought a remarkable passion and tenacity to all of these issues. Together, they have shifted the fundamental conversation in this country. So let me say, especially to the young voters who have been inspired by Senator Sanders, I hear you. I know what's at stake. I know what we have to do.

DETROW: Policy is very important to Sanders supporters, so I think they would want to see shifts there. Another important step would be the vice presidential pick. Biden has promised to pick a woman. A progressive pick would go a long way as well.

SHAPIRO: Domenico, let's talk about leadership in a crisis because the coronavirus has changed so much about life in America right now. Has it changed the way that voters view this campaign?

MONTANARO: Coronavirus has changed everything. Electability was always a big topic for Democratic voters, but now they're also looking at leadership. You know, voters said they were very concerned about coronavirus, according to exit polls last night. And when they were asked who they trusted most to handle a crisis, Democratic voters overwhelmingly said that they trusted Biden more than Sanders to deal with it. And the longer this crisis goes on, the more this general election will hinge on coronavirus and the economy, which is now changing from strong to shaky, frankly.

SHAPIRO: That is NPR's Domenico Montanaro and Scott Detrow.

Thank you both.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.