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

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.
Image: Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders participates in a Democratic presidential primary debate at CNN Studios in Washington, on March 15, 2020.Evan Vucci / AP

WASHINGTON — 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.

Maybe there’s a middle ground for Sanders: Suspend the campaign until May and see if coronavirus is on the decline in the country — and if interest in the presidential contest is up.

But he’s not winning right now. He’s doing worse than he did in 2016. And he can’t seem like he’s putting his personal political interests first.

Sanders has a big decision to make in these extraordinary times.

At publication time, Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir released this statement, per NBC’s Shaquille Brewster: “The next primary contest is at least three weeks away. 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.”

The delegate math after yesterday’s primaries in Arizona, Florida and Illinois: Biden has now won 1,132 pledged delegates, or 54 percent of all the pledged delegates that have been allocated so far.

Sanders has won 817, or 39 percent.

To reach the magic number of 1,991 pledged delegates, Biden will need to win 45 percent of all remaining pledged delegates.

Sanders will need to win 62 percent of the remaining unallocated pledged delegates to get to that magic number.

Data Download: The number of the day is … seven out of 27

Seven out of 27.

That’s how many state primaries and caucuses Bernie Sanders has won in the nomination contest to date.

Sanders has prevailed in: New Hampshire, Nevada, California, Colorado, Utah, Vermont and North Dakota.

Biden has won in every other state contest to date except for Iowa.

Breaking down Biden’s big wins on Tuesday

With 93 percent in, Biden won Florida by a whopping 39 points, 62 percent to 23 percent — and he won every single county in the state.

With 97 percent in, the former vice president won Illinois by 23 points, 59 percent to 36 percent — and he carried every single county with results except for one, Champaign (University of Illinois).

And with 69 percent in, Biden is ahead of Sanders in Arizona by 12 points, 42 percent to 30 percent.

Ohio closed its polling places and delayed in-person voting until June 2.

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: Newman!

With 99 percent reporting, Democratic challenger Marie Newman defeated incumbent Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., 47 percent to 45 percent.

Some helpful context from former Obama strategist and Illinois political veteran David Axelrod:

In beating @RepLipinski in IL-3 today, @Marie4Congress toppled one of the most durable Chicago political dynasties. Lipinski’s dad, a longtime Chicago ward boss, preceded him in Congress. The younger Lipinski also was one of the few House Dems to oppose the Affordable Care Act.

Dispatches from NBC’s campaign embeds

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders spent primary night talking mainly about the coronavirus, but in very difference ways. NBC’s Gary Grumbach covers Sanders’ comments last night, which didn’t mention the contests at all: “Not once during Sanders’ remarks tonight did Sanders mention today’s primaries, or anything to do with voting today.” Rather, he noted emergency-related health care cost coverage and Universal Basic Income strategies he would support for Americans during the pandemic. “Under the proposal that I am working on, everyone who loses a job must qualify for unemployment compensation and 100 percent of their prior salary, with a cap of $75,000 a year,” Sanders said. “In addition, those who depend on tips — waiters and waitresses and others, gig workers, domestic workers, freelancers and independent contractors — must also qualify for unemployment insurance to make up for the income that they lose during this crisis.”

Biden, meanwhile, spent his primary night speech (which under normal circumstances would be a celebratory night) focusing on his message of steady leadership during a crisis and reaching out to Sanders’ supporters, NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor reports: “Biden said that while he and Sanders ‘disagree on tactics,’ they ‘share a common vision’ on issues like health care, income inequality and climate change. ‘Senator Sanders and his supporters have brought a remarkable passion and tenacity to all of these issues. Together they've shifted the fundamental conversation in this country,’ Biden said. He then directly addressed the young people Sanders has inspired, telling them, ‘I hear you. I know what's at stake. I know what we have to do. Our goal as a campaign and my goal is a candidate for president is to unify this party.’”

Talking policy with Benjy

With primary voting postponed in some states over coronavirus fears, speculation is turning towards what happens if there’s still health concerns in November, NBC’s Benjy Sarlin writes. Could an election be postponed? Can states switch to vote by mail? Are there other moves they might take?

First off: No, the president of the United States cannot unilaterally postpone or call off a general election date. Congress sets the date, meaning any agreement to postpone an election would need bipartisan support in both chambers.

But there are possible ways states and even Congress could prevent lines and crowds that health officials are now warning are a threat to spread the virus.

The most obvious option is likely vote-by-mail. Four states — Colorado, Washington, Hawaii, and Oregon — already conduct elections entirely by mail. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have no-excuse absentee ballots, which allow voters to request and send a vote. Already in the last few days, officials in some primary states like Arizona and Illinois — which have no-excuse absentee ballots — were urging voters to make use of them if possible ahead to prevent crowds on Primary Day.

In theory, Congress could require all states to prepare for a large scale vote by mail and provide them funding to do so.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. introduced legislation this week that would trigger a vote-by-mail requirement in all states if at least 25 percent of them declared a state of emergency over COVID-19. It would then provide $500 million to help them stand up their new voting systems.

The Lid: You gotta have faith

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we took a look at how declining faith in institutions is affecting the response to the coronavirus.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

One vote on coronavirus relief has been delayed by Sen. Rand Paul’s push for an amendment that mentions, among other things, Afghanistan.

The White House is now promising cash handouts to most Americans. (And the price tag on a huge recovery bill could be $1 trillion.)

The U.S. death toll is now more than 100 as the virus has affected all 50 states.

Vacancies at DHS are a particular challenge as the agency tries to organize in the fight against the virus.

Jonathan Allen asks why Sanders’ health care pitch around the virus didn’t seem to resonate.

Sahil Kapur sums up what you need to know about last night’s results.

Trump Agenda: The (Jerome) Powell Doctrine

The Fed is making big moves at a time of economic crisis. Here’s what that means.

Some coronavirus information isn’t readily available in Spanish, some Latino groups worry.

The governor of Florida isn’t issuing a directive to close beaches despite fear of further coronavirus spread.

Layoffs because of the economic standstill are just beginning.

The head of OPM has abruptly resigned.

Duncan Hunter has been sentenced to 11 months in prison.

2020: Veep pros and cons

Who might Biden pick as his running mate? Here’s the pros and cons of some of the most talked-about choices.

Biden might need to improve his Latino outreach to put Arizona in play in November, POLITICO writes.

Here’s what the primary defeat of Dan Lipinski might tell us going forward.