Joe Biden rolled to commanding victories in pivotal Michigan and two other states on Tuesday, taking a big step toward the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination and dealing a stinging blow to rival Bernie Sanders’ fading White House bid.
Biden, the former vice president under Barack Obama, won over voters of all types to easily capture Missouri and Mississippi on a day when six states made their choices in the race to pick a challenger to Republican President Donald Trump.
The sweeping wins on Tuesday put Biden, 77, on a path to the nomination to face Trump in the Nov. 3 election, while narrowing the path for Sanders, 78, who had hoped for an upset win in Michigan to keep his White House hopes alive.
Sanders’ loss in a state he won in the 2016 Democratic primary will increase pressure on the democratic socialist U.S. senator from Vermont to exit the race and help Democrats prepare for a bruising election campaign against Trump.
Voters across the states that voted on Tuesday said they trusted Biden more to handle a major crisis by roughly 2-to-1 over Sanders, exit polls by Edison Research showed, a possible sign the fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak helped increase Biden’s appeal as a steady and experienced hand.
Speaking in Philadelphia, Biden thanked Sanders and his supporters for their energy and passion and appealed for party unity.
“We share a common goal and together we are going to defeat Donald Trump,” said Biden, who also mentioned his former rivals such as Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris who endorsed him after dropping their own presidential bids.
“Winning means uniting America. Not sowing more division and anger,” Biden said.
Sanders, who returned home to Vermont on Tuesday night, did not plan a public statement, a departure from his usual practice on primary nights.
With 83% of precincts reporting, Biden led in Michigan with 53% of the vote to 38% for Sanders. Edison Research projected the primary turnout of 1.7 million would surpass the 1.2 million who voted in 2016.
In Washington state, Biden and Sanders were in a virtual tie with more than two-thirds of the votes counted.
Michigan was the biggest and most competitive of the six states that held nominating contests on Tuesday, which also included North Dakota and Idaho. It also is a crucial battleground that Trump narrowly and unexpectedly won in 2016, which along with wins in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin propelled his ascent to the White House.
The Biden breakthrough in Michigan, along with his dominant victories in Missouri and Mississippi, could be too much for Sanders to overcome, with the contest shifting to large states including Florida, Ohio and Georgia where Biden is seen as a clear favorite.
By the end of March, about two-thirds of the nearly 4,000 delegates to July’s Democratic nominating convention will be allocated.