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Joe Biden Wins Big In St. Patrick's Day Democratic Primaries

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

After another string of primary losses, Senator Bernie Sanders is going to, quote, "assess his campaign." That's the word that we're hearing this morning from his team. Former Vice President Joe Biden won yesterday's Democratic primaries in Florida, Illinois and Arizona. He won them all by double digits. His lead in delegates over Bernie Sanders just about doubled as a result, though the coronavirus crisis has largely put a hold on the primary calendar going forward.

We've got NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson here with us to talk about the consequences. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: So Bernie Sanders - his campaign says they're reassessing. How difficult is it for him to keep going at this point, really?

LIASSON: Mathematically, it's very difficult. By our count, he would need about 63% of the remaining delegates to win, and it's very hard to do that if you're losing primary after primary. And I think he will feel some pressure from Democrats to wrap up. They're going to say, if you have no mathematical way of winning, why are you forcing voters to congregate in large groups, risking infections, to cast votes in a primary that should be over?

Today his campaign manager sent out a letter to supporters saying that Sanders is going to go to the Senate today to vote. Then, he's going to fly back to Vermont, and he's going to, quote, "begin holding conversations with supporters to get input and assess the path forward."

So it sounds like he is considering dropping out. He says that he has won the battle of ideas, but when Democratic voters were given a choice of a guy who wants a much, much better safety net and another candidate who wants a whole new system and a political revolution, they chose Joe Biden.

MARTIN: So if Biden's path to the nomination is as clear as it might seem this morning, what does he need to do now?

LIASSON: He has a lot of work to do. He does have a big delegate lead, but he has to figure out how to appeal to young voters, Bernie Sanders' supporters - at the same time, not turning off more moderate suburban women and working-class white men. Last night, he spoke about this. He said to young voters, I hear you. I know what's at stake. He talked about the existential threat of climate change. He has already adopted a version of Bernie Sanders' free college plan and the bankruptcy plan that's been created by Elizabeth Warren. So he's trying to unify the party and bring in the voters who voted for the more progressive candidates, Sanders and Warren.

He's also turning to the general election, trying to continue to draw the contrast with Trump that he's been drawing all along. And last night, he gave his victory speech by livestream from his house in Delaware, and here's how he put it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: This is a moment where we need our leaders to lead. But it's also a moment where the choices and decisions we make as individuals are going to collectively impact on what happens, make a big difference in the severity of this outbreak and the ability of our medical and hospital systems to handle it.

LIASSON: So he didn't mention Donald Trump once, but the contrast he was trying to make was pretty obvious.

MARTIN: Yeah. What about actual campaigning? I mean, rallies, primaries - is this just all done for a while?

LIASSON: Well, the part of the campaign that involves human-to-human contact is pretty much frozen. But I think you're going to see a huge digital push. You know, Donald Trump is very strong on Facebook. Democrats have been trying to catch up. And what I hear from people who are organizing say, look; you know, people don't want to open a door or knock on a door, but they're at home. They have a lot of time on their hands. They have - they're isolated. They're longing for connection. They have a lot of pent-up political energy. And so now it's time to organize through computer screens, not face-to-face.

MARTIN: Brave new world.

NPR's Mara Liasson, thanks. We appreciate it.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.