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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.

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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

Primary states voting Tuesday take steps to limit coronavirus risks

The blue painter’s tape issued to poll workers in Cook County, Illinois, has a particularly important use this year: marking off 6-foot increments to make sure people maintain a safe distance from one another.

“It is our job to ensure the safety of those around us while we carry out our civic duty today,” tweeted County Clerk Karen Yarbrough.

Arizona, Florida and Illinois are proceeding with Tuesday’s primaries, but officials are stressing alternatives, such as voting by mail, and telling voters to be on the lookout for changes due to coronavirus precautions.

Polling places are also taking their own precautions.

Read the full story here.

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Sanders urges voters to stay safe

FIRST READ: The 2020 Democratic race could be frozen in place after Tuesday's primaries

It’s likely — if not certain — that tonight’s Democratic presidential primaries in Arizona, Florida and Illinois will be the last ones for the next two months.

And it’s unclear what, exactly, is going to happen today in Ohio, where the state’s governor said he wouldn’t open the state’s polling places, defying a judge who declined to postpone the state’s primary.

It all freezes into place a Democratic nominating contest — with uncertainty about when it all begins again.

And that raises questions about the state of Bernie Sanders’ campaign (given that Joe Biden’s lead is going to grow after tonight’s contests), about the Democratic convention in July (will the health landscape improve by then?), and about whether states and the federal government can institute a vote-by-mail system for November.

Get the rest of First Read.

Maryland postpones primary election slated for April to June

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday that he's postponing his state's primary that was scheduled for April 28 to June 2. 

"I am issuing a proclamation to postpone the April 28 primary to June 2, just as a number of other states have done and as other governors are expected to do later today or in the days ahead," he said at a press conference.

"I am directing the state board of elections to develop a comprehensive plan by April 3 to conduct the primary election in a way that protects public health and preserves the integrity of the democratic process in our state," he said. 

Pandemic politics: Coronavirus forces candidates to shift to 'virtual' campaign

With the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on stock marketssports leagues and everyday life, it comes as no surprise that the presidential race isn't being spared.

Enter: the virtual campaign.

Say goodbye to big rallies with long lines, smaller meet-and-greets, volunteers knocking on your door. All you'll need now to "attend" your favorite candidate's event is an internet-connected device — please do so in your pajamas if you like.

Faced with the very real and rapidly growing fear about the spread of the coronavirus, the remaining candidates — Donald Trump, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders — are doing everything they can to keep their supporters excited without doing so in the large venues that public health experts say is where the virus can be easily spread.

Read more here.

Ohio primary called off at last minute due to health emergency

Ohio's Tuesday primary was called off at the last minute on Monday night due to a health emergency posed by the coronavirus.

The election was thrust into chaos on Monday after Gov. Mike DeWine said the state would not open polls because of the coronavirus outbreak. His comments come after a judge declined to postpone the contest until June.

"During this time when we face an unprecedented public health crisis, to conduct an election tomorrow would force poll workers and voters to place themselves at an unacceptable health risk of contracting coronavirus," DeWine said in a statement posted to Twitter.

DeWine said that state Health Department Director Amy Acton would "order the polls closed as a health emergency." Acton did just that late Monday night.

Read the full story here.

Latino voters to show electoral clout in Florida, Arizona Democratic primaries

MIAMI — In the months leading to the presidential primaries Tuesday in Florida and Arizona, the names Fidel Castro and Joe Arpaio have become part of the mix for Latino voters as they choose between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

But the escalating coronavirus pandemic has made the issues surrounding the late Cuban communist leader and the ex-sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, secondary to whether to venture to the polls at all.

Florida and Arizona, as well as Illinois are going forward with their primaries despite the national emergency over the outbreak; Ohio's is postponed.

Latinos make up 20.5 percent of eligible voters in Florida and 23.6 percent in Arizona, according to the Pew Research Center.

Read more here.