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

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Democratic presidential hopefuls Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders leave the stage after a debate in Washington on March 15, 2020.
Democratic presidential hopefuls Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders leave the stage after a debate in Washington on March 15, 2020.Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — It’s likely — if not certain — that today’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.

Already, Georgia (originally set for March 24), Louisiana (April 4) and Kentucky (May 19) have postponed their primaries to later dates, as other upcoming states are almost guaranteed to follow.

Here is the state of the Democratic race heading into tonight’s contests: Joe Biden leads Bernie Sanders by 152 pledged delegates, according to NBC News’ count.

That’s with about half of all delegates now awarded, and it will be about 60 percent done after tonight (and depending on what happens in Ohio).

Biden has won 871 pledged delegates, or 50 percent of all pledged delegates allocated so far.

Sanders has won 719, or 42 percent.

To reach the magic number of 1,991 pledged delegates, Biden will need to win 50 percent of the remaining unallocated pledged delegates.

Sanders will need to win 56 percent.

Those numbers will change after tonight – most likely helping Joe Biden and hurting Bernie Sanders.

And then we’re going to have to wait.

Tweet of the day

Why President Trump’s tone changed on the coronavirus

President Trump’s tone certainly changed when it comes to the coronavirus.

“This is a bad one, this is a very bad one. This is bad in the sense that it's so contagious," he said yesterday.

Fox News changed its tone, too.

And the New York Times gives a possible explanation for Trump’s change.

“Sweeping new federal recommendations announced on Monday for Americans to sharply limit their activities appeared to draw on a dire scientific report warning that, without action by the government and individuals to slow the spread of coronavirus and suppress new cases, 2.2 million people in the United States could die,” the Times writes.

More: “The authors said that so-called mitigation policies alone — isolating people suspected of having the virus at home, quarantining their contacts and separating the most vulnerable people from others — might reduce the peak demand on the health care system by two-thirds and deaths by half if applied for three months. But that would still result in hundreds of thousands of deaths and in health systems “overwhelmed many times over,” they said.”

2020 Vision: Everything you need to know about the March 17 primaries

Four states hold their Democratic presidential primaries today, and here’s a breakdown of what you need to know about each contest — by final poll closing time.

  • 7:30 p.m. ET: Ohio (136 pledged delegates at stake – unaffiliated and GOP voters can request a Democratic ballot). Note: That’s assuming that the state’s primary is not postponed tonight.
  • 8:00 p.m. ET: Florida, though most polling places in the state close at 7:00 p.m. ET (219 pledged delegates — closed primary for Democrats).
  • 8:00 p.m. ET: Illinois: (155 pledged delegates — unaffiliated and GOP voters can request a Democratic ballot).
  • 10:00 p.m. ET: Arizona (67 pledged delegates – closed primary for Democrats).

Also in Illinois today, keep an eye on the Dan Lipinksi-versus-Marie Newman Democratic rematch in the state’s third congressional district. Newman, a progressive, narrowly lost to the antiabortion-rights incumbent two years ago.

Dispatches from NBC’s campaign embeds

On the eve of Primary Day, Bernie Sanders admitted that his campaign isn’t panning out quite the way he planned, per NBC’s Gary Grumbach. “We are winning the generational battle. Now, for whatever reason, and I plead guilty to this, maybe it's some of my own doings or lack of doings, we're doing poorly with older people that's just, simply a fact,” he said during his virtual rally on Monday. “I gotta work on that,” Sanders admitted.

But the campaign’s national co-chair Nina Turner said they are not going to relent: “We are not relenting, we are pressing on towards the high prize which is justice, economic justice, political justice, social justice, and environmental justice,” she said. “We are going to continue to fight, to turn this thing around and, baby, we can do it because there is no force greater on this Earth than a conscious minded people on the move.”

Grumbach, along with NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor and Amanda Golden wrote more about what this campaign will continue to look like without in-person campaign events, and perhaps with postponed voting here.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 21,361


That’s Joe Biden’s margin of victory over Bernie Sanders in Washington state — in the actual number of votes — with 99 percent in.

On Monday, a week after the contest took place on March 10, NBC News projected Biden the apparent winner in Washington, with Biden at 575,291 votes (38 percent) and Sanders at 553,930 (36 percent).

With Biden’s victory in Washington, that means he won five out of the six Democratic contests last week — with his sole defeat in North Dakota.

The Lid: Worried sick

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at the partisan divides in how Americans are viewing the coronavirus crisis.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

The president finally pivoted to talking about the gravity of the coronavirus situation. So what comes next?

The Dow slid 3,000 points yesterday on its worst day ever.

Ohio’s elections today are in absolute chaos as the governor and a federal judge spar over the right thing to do.

Will turnout be affected in today’s primaries? Maybe less than you think.

The White House is planning to ask for another major supplemental funding request for the federal response to the virus.

A week later — NBC News is projecting Joe Biden as the winner in the Washington primary.

Trump Agenda: Failing the test

What exactly went so wrong with U.S. testing kits? The Washington Post has some answers.

POLITICO writes that the White House is deploying “SWAT teams of technocrats” to figure out the testing problem.

Courts and trials are halting, with huge consequences for the justice system.

2020: Biden’s VP promise

Some Democrats are hopeful that Biden’s promise to name a female VP would pave the way to the first female president.

Could Sanders concede if he faces big losses tonight? Maybe not.

Will Dan Lipinski lose his seat to a progressive insurgent today?