WASHINGTON--Joe Biden coasted to a blowout victory over Bernie Sanders in Florida's Democratic presidential primary and was projected to win Illinois on Tuesday, edging closer to the nomination to face President Donald Trump in November's election.
Biden rolled over Sanders by nearly 40 percentage points in Florida, the largest of the three states voting on Tuesday, and beat Sanders in every county in the traditional political battleground state.
Edison Research and television networks projected Biden also won in Illinois, where he opened a huge lead of more than 20 percentage points over Sanders with 41% of the precincts reporting. Polls closed in Arizona, the third state voting on Tuesday, but there were no immediate projections.
Biden, the former vice president, hopes big victories on Tuesday will help him amass an unassailable advantage over Sanders in the race to choose a challenger to the Republican Trump in the Nov. 3 election, before the race enters an extended hiatus with no voting scheduled for weeks.
The easy Biden wins appeared to be a sign Democrats were ready to unite for the campaign against Trump, and could increase pressure on Sanders, 78, to end his presidential bid. Democrats have worried about a possible repeat of 2016, when they believe his long, bitter primary battle with Hillary Clinton played a role in her upset loss to Trump, 73.
In somber remarks broadcast from his home in Delaware, Biden, 77, said the coronavirus outbreak demanded leadership from the White House and appealed to the many young supporters drawn to Sanders, a democratic socialist U.S. senator.
"Let me say especially to the young voters who have been inspired by Senator Sanders: I hear you. I know what’s at stake. I know what we have to do," he said. "Our goal as a campaign and my goal as a candidate for president was to unify this party and then to unify the nation."
Young voters between ages 18 and 44 were the only major demographic that backed Sanders in Florida and Illinois, the Edison polls showed.
Florida, where Trump barely beat Clinton in the general election by 1.2 percentage points in 2016, was the biggest prize of the day with 219 delegates. Biden was projected to have won 104 delegates to Sanders' 36 in Florida and Illinois so far, with more than 100 still to be allocated.
Despite escalating concerns about the coronavirus outbreak that has shut down large public gatherings across the country, Edison Research estimated Democratic turnout in Florida at 1.85 million - more than the 1.7 million who voted in 2016 and 1.75 million in 2008. A majority of voters in all three states trusted Biden more than Sanders to handle a major crisis, Edison Research polls found in a sign the deepening health crisis has helped increase Biden's appeal as a steady and experienced hand.
They also found seven of 10 voters in all three states believed Biden had the best chance of beating Trump, a crucial factor in this year's Democratic race where electability has been the top priority for many voters.