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Biden edges closer to Democratic nomination with big wins

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Mr Biden has strung together a series of decisive wins, routing Mr Sanders by nearly 40 percentage points in Florida, 20 points in Illinois and more than 10 points in Arizona.

Washington

JOE Biden coasted to major victories in Tuesday's three Democratic presidential primaries in the US, expanding his nearly unbeatable lead in the race to challenge US President Donald Trump in November and increasing the pressure on rival Bernie Sanders to end his campaign.

The dominating wins in Florida, Illinois and Arizona were a sign that Democrats were ready to rally behind Mr Biden and turn their focus to the looming Nov 3 election battle against Mr Trump, before the campaign enters an extended hiatus with no primary votes scheduled for weeks amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The victories also raised questions about whether Mr Sanders should continue his pursuit of the White House. Party leaders have worried about a repeat of 2016, when they believe the US senator's long, bitter primary battle with Hillary Clinton played a role in her upset loss to Mr Trump.

The 77-year-old Mr Biden strung together a series of decisive wins, routing Sanders by nearly 40 percentage points in Florida, 20 points in Illinois and more than 10 points in Arizona.

In sombre remarks broadcast from his home in Delaware, the former vice-president said the coronavirus outbreak demanded leadership from the White House, and made an appeal to the many young supporters drawn to Mr Sanders, a democratic socialist.

"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," he said.

"Our goal as a campaign and my goal as a candidate for president was to unify this party and then to unify the nation."

Mr Biden's sweeping victories were powered by a broad coalition of voters of every ideology and demographic, Edison Research polls showed.

Young voters between ages 18 and 44 were the only major demographic that backed Sanders on Tuesday, the polls found.

A majority of voters in all three states trusted Mr Biden more than Mr Sanders, 78, to handle a major crisis, the polls found, in a sign the deepening health crisis has increased Biden's appeal as a steady and experienced hand.

They also found seven of 10 voters in all three states believed Mr Biden had the best chance of beating Mr Trump, a crucial factor in this year's Democratic race where electability has been the top priority for many voters.

Mr Biden's overpowering performance in Florida, a traditional battleground state where he won every county, was an encouraging general election sign for Democrats. Mr Trump narrowly beat Mrs Clinton in Florida in 2016.

Mr Biden had taken command of the Democratic race in the past two weeks, scoring victories in 16 of the last 21 state contests.

His sweep on Tuesday extended his lead over Mr Sanders to roughly 230 delegates in the chase for the 1,991 delegates needed to clinch the nomination at July's Democratic convention.

Despite escalating concerns about the coronavirus outbreak that has shut down large public gatherings across the country, Edison Research estimated Democratic turnout in Florida at 1.85 million - more than the 1.7 million who voted in 2016 and 1.75 million in 2008.

The polls also showed about half of voters in Illinois were "very concerned" about the potential effects of the outbreak, which caused Ohio to cancel its planned nominating contest on Tuesday.

"Our goal is that no one will have to choose between their constitutional rights and risking their health," Ohio Governor Mike DeWine told a news conference, adding that going ahead with the vote would have been "a real disaster".

Several states have postponed their Democratic presidential primaries, including Georgia, which had been scheduled to vote on March 24; Louisiana, on April 4; Maryland, on April 28; and Kentucky, on May 19.

Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, urged the remaining primary states not to postpone their voting but to focus on ways to make it safer such as voting by mail and extending early voting hours.

Officials in the three states that voted on Tuesday had assured the public it was safe despite fears about the coronavirus, which has dramatically altered American life, forced the campaigns to abandon public events and prompted other states to postpone future primary elections.

In remarks livestreamed online before the voting ended, Mr Sanders did not mention Tuesday's primaries but set out a detailed US$2 trillion plan to deal with the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus. REUTERS