Biden blowouts send a message, with voting set to pause amid crisis: ANALYSIS

Virtually all of American life has been upended in recent days.

In any normal year, the primary race would be effectively over now. Tuesday's primaries essentially sealed the Democratic presidential nomination for former Vice President Joe Biden.

This, of course, is not a normal year. While the strangest primary night in recent memory had a familiar outcome for anyone who's been following the Democratic race these last few weeks, the fact that fewer people are paying attention to voting these days -- for obvious and understandable reasons -- could leave the race lingering for a while longer.

Florida, Illinois and Arizona were tracking toward blowouts as votes rolled in late Tuesday, with Biden steamrolling his way to what looks to be an insurmountable lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders.

With the party now about three-fifths through voting in terms of available delegates, Sanders now has virtually no shot at winning more delegates than Biden. It was less than a month ago -- after he took an early lead -- that Sanders stood on a debate stage and said the nominee should be whichever candidate wins by that metric.

Things have changed dramatically since then, in virtually every way imaginable, and some that could not have been envisioned at all. Due to public-health concerns, Biden spoke Tuesday night from his home in Delaware, where he spoke at length about this moment of national crisis.

He thanked voters for a "very good night," and directly addressed Sanders supporters.

"We move closer to securing the Democratic Party's nomination for president, and we're doing it by building a strong coalition," Biden said. "Let me say especially to the young voters who may have been inspired by Sen. Sanders: I hear you. I know what's at stake. I know what we have to do."

Sanders avoided making any kind of election-related comments at all on Tuesday night. He instead livestreamed remarks about coronavirus from behind a desk in Washington, where he has returned to work on Senate business.

"Our country -- in fact, the world -- are facing an unprecedented series of crises," Sanders told his supporters, without even mentioning the states that voted on Tuesday. "Let us go forward together."

What that means politically is unclear, and what that means from the standpoint of society may be even less clear. Virtually all of American life has been upended in recent days, and the fact that voting did occur Tuesday across three states seemed off -- if not inadvisable -- for this moment.

Neither Biden nor Sanders has held a public event in more than a week, and warnings against public gatherings undoubtedly impacted turnout and forced those who did vote to wait longer than normal. Ohio's governor canceled voting that was supposed to happen on Tuesday.

The coronavirus pandemic could shelve virtually all voting for the next six weeks, if not longer. The next major day of voting isn't until April 28, and one state that was supposed to vote then -- Maryland -- on Tuesday moved to push the primary until June.

To the extent that campaign messaging has continued, Sanders sought to make health care a defining issue in recent days. He honed attacks on Biden for past support for trimming entitlement programs, and used coronavirus as an argument for his signature policy: "Medicare for All."

Polls of those who said they intended to vote Tuesday showed Sanders again winning the policy argument around the concept of a single-payer health care system. But Biden was the clear beneficiary of perceptions of electability and leadership capabilities.

Those polled favored Biden over Sanders as the candidate they trust more to handle a crisis by a 71-23 margin in Florida, 64-31% in Illinois and 63-31% in Arizona. Biden dominated in Florida and was on track late Tuesday to win every county in the classic battleground state.

The results send an unmistakable message: Barring calamity, Biden will be the Democratic nominee. But politics can and probably should be paused for a while, as Sanders considers his next move and as the nation deals with weightier issues than delegate counts.