Coronavirus and Its Effects on the Primary Season

AP Photo/Matthew Brown

Today, voters will go to the polls in three states- Florida, Illinois and Arizona.  It was a wild ride in Ohio as the Republican Governor, Mike DeWine, sought to postpone today’s primary, was denied that option by a state judge and then the state’s Public Health Director intervened and the primary has been cancelled until June 2nd.  In some respects, this was a boon for Democrats who had complained earlier that moving the Ohio primary to March 17th (it would have been March 10th otherwise) would suppress Democrat turnout in heavy Irish areas like Toledo- a silly and specious argument as if casting a vote somehow interfered with one’s ability to drink green bear and eat corned beef and cabbage.

A big prize up today- Florida- where 219 delegates are up for grabs- is still on.  Sanders has over the past two weeks done his best to alienate Florida voters with his pro-Castro comments while also accusing the pro-Israel lobby as “bigoted.”  This is not a good strategy for winning the Sunshine State with its heavy Cuban and Jewish populations.  There are also many retirees in Florida and his Medicare For All idea has probably scared them also as they fear a diversion of resources for senior citizens to others.  In short, if Sanders’ idea of winning Florida was to alienate voters, he is playing a weird game and handing the state to Biden without Biden saying a word.

As for Illinois, they have a healthy delegate haul today with 155 up for grabs.  The problem for Sanders is that Illinois is demographically similar to Michigan where he saw a bleeding of support from his 2016 numbers.  The best Sanders could hope for here is a close loss to Biden, but that is not likely.  That leaves Arizona today and, by comparison to the other two states, a paltry delegate haul of only 67.  This is his only realistic chance today to make a stand against Biden.  In effect, he is relying on a Latino firewall in Arizona much like Biden had his African-American firewall in South Carolina which made him relevant again.  Sanders can also find solace in the fact that neighboring Nevada gave him a victory, but Nevada is a caucus state and Arizona is a primary state.

Getting beyond this week, Georgia has postponed their primaries until mid-May.  They are following the lead of Louisiana which originally scheduled their presidential primaries for April 4th.  Instead, Louisiana will hold their primaries in mid-June.  This creates another problem.  The mid-June date is outside the window established by both parties for delegate selection events (convention, primary, caucus).  Obviously, emergency accommodations will have to be considered which then calls into question the timing of the national convention, particularly that of the Democrats which go first.

Meanwhile, Wyoming has decided to forego in-person caucuses and has adopted a unique system where ballots can be dropped off at various sites around the state, then collected and tabulated.  Washington, which has a mail-ballot system, did the same for last minute drop-offs which seemed to work.  Of course, Wyoming is a much smaller and more rural state so it will take time to collect and tabulate results.

Regardless of primary results today, the whole nomination process for President, especially the Democrats, is being thrown into disarray.  Many states hold bifurcated primaries- Presidential by a certain time and state/US House/Senate primaries at a later date.  Others hold runoffs, some of which have been already been postponed.  The following is a list of primaries/caucuses that may be affected by the coronavirus depending on the length of the national public health emergency:

  • March 31st- Arkansas and Mississippi runoffs
  • April 7th- Wisconsin primaries
  • April 14th- Alabama runoff
  • April 28th- primaries in Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Rhode Island