Joe Biden won a commanding victory over Bernie Sanders in Tuesday’s Florida Democratic presidential primary, one of his biggest so far in a string of wins for the former vice president over the past few weeks.
In a primary that will be remembered for taking place in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, Biden led Sanders 62% to 23% with about 97% of the statewide vote reported. President Trump, meanwhile, easily defeated three minor candidates in the Republican primary.
An early tally by NBC News had Biden picking up 133 delegates in Florida to Sanders’ 22, according to NBC, opening up a huge delegate lead for the former vice president on Tuesday even before Illinois and Arizona were called. Biden was also projected to win Illinois shortly before 9:30 p.m.
Speaking from his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, instead of before a crowd because of coronavirus concerns, Biden attempted to reach out to his last remaining opponent.
“Sen. Sanders and I may disagree on tactics but we share a common vision,” Biden said. “I hear you. I know what’s at stake. I know what we have to do.”
The total voter turnout of about 26% in Orange County was down from 42% in 2016, when there were two competitive primaries. Less than 10% of all registered voters came out on Election Day compared with the 17% of registered voters who voted early or by mail.
The major loss for Sanders, on the heels of Biden winning Washington and Michigan – states where Sanders had won key victories over Hillary Clinton in 2016 – makes it even more difficult for the Vermont senator to catch up to Biden.
“The demographics of the state [Florida] weren’t really positive for him,” University of South Florida professor emeritus Susan MacManus said of Sanders. “The youth vote hasn’t turned out that great [for him], and seniors are more party traditionalists.”
Suburban women also trended toward Biden, MacManus said, and President Obama’s former running mate has seen huge advantages over Sanders in the African American vote.
But in Florida, she said, “his big mistake was with Latinos.”
Sanders was heavily criticized by Cuban and Venezuelan Americans and several Democratic lawmakers in Florida in February after he defended comments he made in the 1980s praising Fidel Castro’s literacy programs.
“In interviews, you saw young Cuban [Democrats] in Miami who said they wouldn’t vote for the guy,” MacManus said. Sanders has done well with Hispanics elsewhere, “but I don’t think he realized the demographics of the state when it came to Latinos.”
Florida was always an ambitious goal for Sanders, with state Democratic voters having given him one of his worst results in a big state in 2016, losing to Clinton 64% to 33%. Biden’s lead in seven pre-primary polls over Sanders never dipped below 38 points once former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, who once led Biden in a few polls, dropped out of the race on March 4.
Live updates from Florida’s presidential primary including Central Florida elections.
By Orlando Sentinel Staff
Mar 17, 2020 8:36 PM
Sanders didn’t campaign in Florida as he did in 2016, when he held an open-air rally in Kissimmee. Still, Sanders volunteers had opened up a field office in Winter Park in mid-February as an unofficial headquarters. They were optimistic about getting out the youth vote on college campuses such as the University of Central Florida.
But in the midst of spring break and the pandemic, the turnout was one of the lowest in Orange County at the UCF precinct, at just 21%.
Biden’s campaign, which was fighting for its life after weak fourth- and fifth-place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, was late in opening its six field offices in the state following Biden’s victories in South Carolina and on Super Tuesday.
While Biden didn’t swing through the state either – planned trips to Miami and Tampa were canceled due to coronavirus concerns – his wife Jill’s campaign stops included addressing two majority African American churches in Orlando alongside U.S. Rep Val Demings, a potential choice for Biden’s running mate.
Both Biden and Sanders cautioned voters leading up to the vote, with Sanders tweeting that “going to the polls amid the coronavirus outbreak is a personal decision and we respect whichever choice voters make,” while Biden warned if “you vote in person, please wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and stay 6’ from others in line.”
At one point at the Marks Street Senior Recreation Complex in downtown Orlando, Richard Dellinger found himself the only voter inside the polling place.
Political Pulse Newsletter
Political news from Central Florida and across the state.
“No question, I’m coming to vote. No doubt about it,” he said. “If people are able to find their way to Publix, they can find their way to the ballot box. This is more important than a roll of toilet paper.”
Louise Cleary, 71, and Nancy Prine, who describes herself as “older than dirt,” weren’t hesitant either about voting in-person for Sanders. “We always do,” Prine said.
They made sure to stand away from anyone at the precinct, brought their own pens and lathered up afterward with provided hand sanitizer. A poll worker opened the door for them so they wouldn’t have to touch the handle.
Susan Malove, a defense attorney who stopped by the Marks Street precinct, said she voted for Biden.
“I think, at this point, it’s not even a question that we need to support him if we want to beat Trump,” she said.