5 things to watch as Arizona, Florida and Illinois vote during coronavirus mayhem

Three states hold primaries Tuesday in the first big day of voting since the coronavirus upended daily life and was declared a national emergency.
Image: Michael Grabowski checks-in to vote at a polling station in Illinois on March 17, 2020.
A polling station in Illinois on March 17, as three states hold primaries amid the coronavirus crisis.Daniel Acker / Reuters

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By Sahil Kapur

WASHINGTON — Democrats in three states will hold primaries Tuesday in the first big day of voting since the coronavirus upended vast swaths of American life and was declared a national emergency.

It is uncharted territory for Arizona, Florida and Illinois, which collectively award 441 delegates to the Democratic convention, more than one-fifth of what’s needed to clinch the nomination. Joe Biden leads Bernie Sanders by about 150 delegates, according to the latest NBC News count.

Here are five things to watch for on Tuesday.

Coronavirus havoc

The virus caused Ohio to postpone its primary at the last minute. In-person voter turnout may take a hit in the remaining states after the Trump administration recommended Monday that Americans avoid public gatherings of more than 10 people to limit spread of the disease.

With the nation on edge, many are wondering whether polling places will be fully staffed and whether those who seek to vote will be able to do so. Some continue to wonder whether states will grant extensions or accommodations for people to vote later — and if so, how.

Will there be more primaries?

States that are expected to vote in the upcoming weeks will be watching how the primaries go Tuesday as they decide whether to move forward with their contests or delay them. That includes delegate-rich contests like New York and Pennsylvania, which are currently set to vote on April 28. If things go smoothly in Arizona, Florida and Illinois, that might nudge them to stay the course. But if there's chaos, expect more delays and postponements and some states to consider switching to vote-by-mail operations.

Will Sanders win anywhere?

If the polls are any indication, Biden is positioned to expand his delegate lead. He leads Sanders by 38 points in Florida, according to a Univision survey, and by 17 points in Arizona according to a NBC/Marist poll. Sanders lost all three states in the 2016 primary. If he wants to revive his fortunes this time, he needs to win states that he lost last time.

Sanders spokesman Mike Casca said Tuesday morning that the campaign is not doing its traditional get-out-the-vote outreach in the three primary states today. The senator tweeted out guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saying that “going to the polls amid the coronavirus outbreak is a personal decision and we respect whichever choice voters make.”

Will Biden expand his base?

Two groups that Biden has been performing poorly with are voters under 45 and Latinos, who have embraced Sanders in big numbers. The former vice president has sought to unify the party as he edges closer to presumptive nominee status, including with new policy planks to allow people to discharge student debt in bankruptcy and allow for free tuition at public colleges and universities for those with family incomes under $125,000.

Aside from Florida Hispanics, who are already expected to strongly support Biden, Tuesday's voting will indicate whether he's making inroads with under-45s and other Latinos.

The Arizona bellwether

A traditionally red state that's turning purple, Arizona is seen by forecasters as a potential tipping point in the general election. Hillary Clinton came within 3.5 points of victory in 2016, and Democrats won a Senate race in 2018 to replace Republican Sen. John McCain.

Voting patterns in the primary Tuesday may provide a glimpse into the zeitgeist, and offer clues about whether the state is ready to go blue in a presidential election for just the second time in the last 70 years.