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Joe Biden Extends His Delegate Lead Over Bernie Sanders

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Joe Biden wants Americans to think of him as the presumptive Democratic nominee against Donald Trump, and after last night, he does have a stronger case. Biden one in four out of six primary contests, including Michigan, where 125 delegates were up for grabs. The results narrow the path to the nomination for Bernie Sanders. He went home to Vermont last night, and that is where we find NPR's Scott Detrow, who's been traveling with the campaign. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Walk us through the results.

DETROW: Well, let's start with Michigan, the site of Sanders' biggest upset win four years ago against Hillary Clinton and the place where Sanders spent much of the past week campaigning. Biden - more than 15 points ahead of him there. Biden won Idaho, a state Sanders won four years ago by a landslide. Mississippi - a blowout win for Biden. Sanders is currently below 15% statewide right now. If that holds, that's fewer delegates out of there; Biden gets a ton. Missouri, a state that Sanders and Clinton were neck and neck in 2016...

MARTIN: Right.

DETROW: ...So big of a Biden lead that The AP and other networks called it the moment the polls closed. So the trend that we suddenly saw last week is even more stark now, and that is this - Joe Biden has consolidated support from the Democratic Party and is beating Bernie Sanders by a lot.

MARTIN: So we mentioned this, that Bernie Sanders did not speak to supporters or the public last night. He went home to Vermont. It wasn't a good night for him. I mean, does he still have a path to the nomination?

DETROW: I think that's a question he and his campaign are thinking a lot about and probably a big reason why we did not hear from him last night. The basic theories that Sanders campaign had for his nomination are not playing out. He is not seeing a wave of first-time and younger voters. Significant chunks of his 2016 coalition are not with him this time. And looking forward, many of the key states that Sanders was relying on to get the nomination have now already voted. Biden is the favorite in a lot of the states coming up in the next few weeks.

So Sanders had really craved this two-person race. His camp viewed it as a chance to make their case, really show the key differences. But there is a clear message coming out of this two-person race, and it is one for the other candidate, Joe Biden, at the moment. There's a debate next week that could maybe change things around, but other than that, it's hard to see what happens next for Sanders.

MARTIN: All right, a debate that - by the way, we'll just note CNN just announced that that debate will happen without a live studio audience because of the coronavirus. NPR's Scott Detrow. Thanks. We appreciate it.

DETROW: Thank you.

MARTIN: So I want to bring in Congressman Mark Takano. He is in our studios this morning. He endorsed Bernie Sanders yesterday. Congressman, thank you so much for coming in.

MARK TAKANO: My pleasure.

MARTIN: Does your candidate still have a path?

TAKANO: Well, as we see - as we've seen, the race can take dramatic turns and - quite suddenly. We have a debate coming up. And it is now a binary race between mister - between Senator Sanders and former Vice President Biden. And it's a real opportunity for Senator Sanders to, with a wider audience, make his case. And, you know, I look forward to hearing him do that.

MARTIN: So why hasn't he been able to, I mean, not just build a broader coalition of voters but even just repeat the wins that he had in 2016? What's your read on why he lost Michigan?

TAKANO: Well, it came rather quickly on the heels of Super Tuesday. And I - you know, my district went strongly for Senator Sanders, even wider, a bigger margin than the state as a whole, in California. And that's one of the primary reasons that I came forward, other than I'm also a progressive that wanted to come home after Super Tuesday kind of shook things out. My feeling is that I wanted to put forward arguments as a chairman of a full committee in the House of Representatives. I saw Senator Sanders being very effective as the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

MARTIN: Yeah.

TAKANO: He hasn't put forth arguments I'm answer - you know, put forth arguments that I would put forward, which is he can - he has an agenda, and he can also - he also has the skill set to get that agenda through.

MARTIN: So you said that you were a progressive who is now coming home. Why did you wait so long, though, to endorse Bernie Sanders?

TAKANO: Well, we had other progressives in the race, and I had promised my supporters in my district that I would allow the voters in my district to make that decision. And they did, and they spoke loudly and clearly. They are young voters, many of them Latino, and I think the party and all of us need to show them some respect. And they're the future. And, you know, Bernie Sanders definitely spoke to them loud and clear, and they responded.

MARTIN: Bernie Sanders' theory of the case has been that his campaign can motivate more newer - more new voters, younger voters to the degree that it would give him the edge. His campaign has demonstrated an inability to do that.

TAKANO: Yes. Well, I can tell you that he definitely reached the young voters in my district. He definitely reached a demographic.

MARTIN: But where's he falling short? What's not working?

TAKANO: Well, I think - in my endorsement statement, I talked about how he has the clearest history of protecting Medicare and Social Security. I talked about his early support for marriage equality back in the '90s. He was one of the few members of Congress that had the courage to stand up in the '90s. And as an openly gay person in Congress, it matters to me to see people like Bernie Sanders with courage that really occurs before we expect it to, especially when it comes to standing up for LGBTQ rights. So...

MARTIN: But voters clearly think that Joe Biden is a safer bet against Donald Trump, at least measured by the results in the primaries.

TAKANO: I think that's - I think there's some truth in that. I believe - I came to believe that all of our remaining candidates on the debate stage, last time there were six or seven on the debate stage, could beat Donald Trump. They all could beat Donald Trump. And if you believe that, then you don't need to make the safe choice. This safe choice distinction, I think, is really overly done.

Bernie was polling just as well not only nationally as Joe Biden, not only national polls, but in the swing states as well. And those swing state polls are going to vary according to what's trending at the moment. But I think voters have been overly - have gotten - I do think that's an explanation, that they're so scared of Trump that they're going to what they think is a safe choice. I would say to the voters, no, both Bernie and Joe can beat the president.

MARTIN: As you have noted, the race is not over. But will you support Joe Biden if he's the nominee, and will you encourage other Sanders supporters to...

TAKANO: I've always been true blue no matter who, and I would stand behind Joe Biden if he ends up getting more delegates in - you know, pledged delegates before the convention, absolutely. Defeating Donald Trump is our No. 1 objective. And Bernie Sanders has - you know, Bernie Sanders has determined the terms of this debate. And we - Joe Biden is a far more progressive candidate than he would have been without Joe - without Bernie Sanders.

MARTIN: Congressman Mark Takano of California, thank you. We appreciate you coming in this morning.

TAKANO: Thank you. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAASKAT'S "GRASS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.