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March 17 Democratic primaries live updates: Biden sweeps Sanders as coronavirus casts shadow over vote

Tuesday's primaries were the first since Trump declared a national emergency over the coronavirus outbreak.

Joe Biden defeated Bernie Sanders in Florida, Illinois and Arizona, NBC News projected Tuesday, opening up a nearly insurmountable delegate lead.

In Ohio, polls were ordered closed as a public health measure after a judge declined the governor's request to postpone the election. But contests in the other three states proceeded as scheduled Tuesday despite widespread fears over the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic.

The outbreak, which has sickened more than 5,000 people in the U.S., is thrusting the Democratic primary into uncertainty, with some states postponing their elections and the candidates forgoing rallies for virtual events.

Highlights from the March 17 Democratic primaries:

Live Blog

Biden, Sanders campaigns ramping down ad spending amid coronavirus spread

WASHINGTON – With the coronavirus outbreak prompting several states to postpone their primary elections, former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders are slowing their ad spending to a virtual halt. 

A Biden campaign spokesman told NBC News there is “no plan right now” to go up with TV or radio ads, largely because their ad strategy focuses on creating ads based on the issues voters in that upcoming primary state find to be most important. Facebook's ad-tracker shows the campaign is still running digital ads on the platform, however. 

That same tracker shows that Sanders isn't currently running any Facebook ads. And data from Advertising Analytics shows that the Sanders campaign is dark on traditional media too (television and radio). 

As the Biden campaign continues to iron out the best ways to campaign in this unprecedented time for presidential politics, the spokesman caveated that their current plan for remaining silent on the airwaves could change. One area where investments could be made is in digital ads now that most people are turning to video websites like YouTube and Hulu while they work from home.

Biden ads featured in states from Michigan to Georgia featured President Barack Obama thanking Biden for his commitment to “Service” and Biden’s call for Democrats to unite in an ad called “Always” to defeat President Donald Trump. They also rolled out new Spanish-language ads in Florida, Arizona and Illinois discussing Biden’s records on guns, healthcare and the need for leadership to prevent future global panic like the one caused by coronavirus.

Unite the Country, the Super PAC supporting Biden’s candidacy, will also not be on the airwaves or on digital in the coming weeks as they focus on expanding their group with sights set on the general election, Steve Schale, a top strategist for the group, told NBC News. 

After projected losses in the Florida, Illinois and Arizona primaries on Tuesday night, Sanders' campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, said in a statement that Sanders "is going to be having conversations with supporters to assess his campaign" but that "In the immediate term, however, he is focused on the government response to the coronavirus outbreak and ensuring that we take care of working people and the most vulnerable."

Through March 10, before the campaign was completely upended by coronavirus, the Sanders campaign had significantly outspent the Biden campaign on the television and radio airwaves—$42.2 million to $14.6 million respectively. 

Mike Memoli contributed. 

Chicago's voting struggles illustrate the challenges of coronavirus

Chicago voters were turned away for hours at dozens of polling locations that opened without voting machines, adequate cleaning supplies or enough poll workers — acutely illustrating the strain of voting under the threat of coronavirus exposure and mandates for social distancing and disinfecting surfaces. 

The delays were driven by a shortage of poll workers and the need to move polling equipment to new locations, Noah Praetz, a former director of elections at Cook County, told NBC News, adding that "probably 60 percent of necessary poll workers” handled things. 

After 200 polling locations were changed, about 50 precincts didn’t have enough supplies to open, James P. Allen, a spokesman for the city's elections board, told reporters. Locations struggled to find enough workers and went through a large number of replacement judges, he said. By Monday, the number of resignations from judges had risen to “a torrent, a tsunami of calls,” Chicago Board of Elections Chair Marisel Hernandez said.

At the end of the day, turnout was slightly over 30 percent in the city in what were “extremely challenging conditions,“ the city’s elections board reported — a steep drop from over 50 percent turnout in 2016 and only a few percentage points above the city’s record-low presidential primary turnout in 2012.

Efforts to push alternate means to in-person voting like early voting and voting by mail appeared successful Tuesday, with nearly 600,000 early votes cast and nearly 300,000 ballots sent by mail across the state, compared to about 423,000 early votes and 162,000 mail-in ballots in the 2016 primary, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Longtime anti-abortion rights Democrat Rep. Lipinski defeated in Chicago-area primary

Anti-abortion rights Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski was ousted on Tuesday night by progressive challenger Marie Newman in a high-profile primary in Illinois, giving liberals a glimmer of hope in what otherwise has been a dispiriting election year for them.

Lipinski had successfully fought back numerous challenges on his left flank, including one from Newman in 2018. But he finally succumbed Tuesday when the Associated Press called the rematch for Newman, who garnered 47 percent of the vote to Lipinski's 45 percent, with two lesser-known candidates splitting the rest.

Lipinski, who in 2005 inherited his Chicago-area seat from his father, longtime former Rep. Bill Lipinski, has drawn the ire of a wide range of progressive groups for his votes and policy statements on abortion, health care and other issues.

Read the full story here.

ANALYSIS: Sanders' coronavirus pitch flopped. Was it the message or the messenger?

Bernie Sanders says the coronavirus pandemic highlights the need for the populist progressive political revolution he's been promoting for five years. Democrats aren't buying it.

The vast majority of them trust front-runner Joe Biden to handle a crisis more than they trust Sanders, according to NBC News polls in a series of states that held presidential primaries Tuesday. In Florida, 71 percent of voters picked Biden on that question, while 64 percent did in Illinois and 63 percent did in Arizona.

The question now for progressives is whether it's their message or their messenger, Sanders, that Democrats are rejecting as the centrist Biden moves ever closer to winning the party's nomination and President Donald Trump pushes a coronavirus stimulus package that features a populist plan to send thousand-dollar checks to Americans.

Read the analysis here.

FIRST READ: After Tuesday's losses, Sanders faces more questions about his campaign's future

Under normal circumstances, there would be enormous pressure for Bernie Sanders to suspend his presidential campaign and unite — now that he trails Joe Biden by 315 pledged delegates, and that he continues to underperform from his 2016 campaign.

But these aren’t normal circumstances.

With more than 5,700 confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States, with at least 100 deaths, and with states (including Ohio yesterday) postponing their primaries until May or June, the interest isn’t party unity.

It’s the country’s health.

Get First Read.

Sanders to 'assess' campaign

Sen. Bernie Sanders plans to assess his 2020 presidential campaign with his supporters after losing primaries in three states on Tuesday, his campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, said in a statement Wednesday morning.

“The next primary contest is at least three weeks away," Shakir said following Sanders' losses in Florida, Illinois and Arizona to former Vice President Joe Biden, according to NBC News' projections. "Sen. Sanders is going to be having conversations with supporters to assess his campaign.”

“In the immediate term, however, he is focused on the government response to the coronavirus outbreak and ensuring that we take care of working people and the most vulnerable,” Shakir continued.

Read the story here.

NBC News Primary Poll: Voters who oppose 'Medicare for All' boost Biden in Arizona

Joe Biden beat Bernie Sanders to win the Arizona Democratic primary with support from voters who said the next president’s policies should return to former President Barack Obama’s, according to results from an NBC News Primary Poll.

Biden also got support from those who said they oppose "Medicare for All," a key piece of Sanders' platform, and those who said the qualities that matter most to them in a candidate are someone with the right temperament and someone who can unite the country.  

Biden also won the Arizona primary with support from groups that have been strongholds for him — voters age 45 and above and those who identify as moderate or conservative.

Read more on the NBC News Primary Poll.

Biden wins Arizona primary to cap three-state sweep, NBC News projects

Biden wins the Arizona Democratic primary, NBC News projects, capping a sweep of contests in three states on Tuesday.

The trio of wins allowed the former vice president to grow his lead in the total delegate count over Sanders and tighten his grip on the Democratic presidential nomination.

With 62 percent of the vote in Arizona in, Biden led Sanders 44 percent to 31 percent.

There are 67 pledged delegates at stake in Arizona. As of 11:15 p.m. ET, Biden had received 23, while Sanders was awarded 19, according to NBC News.

Earlier in the night, Biden defeated Sanders in the Florida and Illinois Democratic primaries, according to NBC News projections, allowing Biden to open up what could be an insurmountable delegate lead in the battle for the nomination.

As of of 11:15 p.m ET, an NBC News projection of the total delegate count showed Biden leading Sanders 1,124 to 815. 

To win the nomination on the first ballot, a Democratic candidate must receive support from a majority of pledged delegates — at least 1,991.

Key takeaways from Florida, Illinois: Biden cruising to the nomination

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden won dominant victories in Florida and Illinois on Tuesday as he marched closer to the Democratic presidential nomination amid coronavirus mayhem.

The former vice president was on course to expand his lead and cross the halfway mark toward the 1,991 delegates needed to clinch the nomination on the first ballot.

The primaries came as the coronavirus outbreak wreaked havoc on American life and sent the economy into a tailspin, though large numbers of votes had already been banked in the early voting period. Arizona polls were set to close later. Ohio postponed its primary at the last minute.

Below are some key takeaways from Florida and Illinois.

WATCH: Kornacki breaks down Biden's victory in Illinois