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Biden Has Decisive Wins In 4 Out Of 6 'Big Tuesday' Primary Contests

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Joe Biden is likely feeling pretty good this morning. The former vice president had decisive wins in four out of six primary contests last night, including Michigan, which was considered a must-win for Senator Bernie Sanders. After most of the results were in, Biden delivered a speech to supporters in which he clearly tried to position himself as the presumptive nominee and extended an olive branch to Sanders and his supporters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: I want to thank Bernie Sanders and his supporters for their tireless energy and their passion. We share a common goal, and together we'll defeat Donald Trump.

MARTIN: Joe Biden also racked up wins in Mississippi, Montana and Idaho, while Sanders took North Dakota. The state of Washington is still too close to call. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us to look at where the race goes next. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there.

MARTIN: What did we learn last night about the Democratic primary race?

LIASSON: Well, we learned that the Democratic primary race is not over yet but Joe Biden's has - apparently has a coalition that is very broad and durable, and his lead, if not insurmountable, is getting very, very hard to overcome. Bernie Sanders' coalition once again last night failed to show up, particularly young people, in the huge numbers that he has been predicting.

MARTIN: So what happened? I mean, Sanders won in Michigan in 2016; he won in Idaho in 2016. He just lost those states. So not only has he not expanded his coalition, he's losing ground. What changed?

LIASSON: That's right. Well, one of the ways he's losing ground is with white voters and white noncollege voters. Remember - they broke for him heavily in the primary against Hillary Clinton. But one thing that's different this time is Bernie Sanders is not running against a woman. We think gender played a part. We can't say how much. But given that Sanders is doing so much worse this time, it suggests that a lot of his vote in 2016 was an anti-Hillary vote. Just for an example - in Michigan, white men swung more than 20 net points from 2016 away from Sanders toward Biden. And that's something that is really different than in 2016.

Another thing that we are seeing for Democrats that should make them happy is we're seeing higher primary turnout. About 1.7 million voters came out in Michigan. That's half a million more than in 2016. In 2008, it was only 600,000. So that's a good sign because Michigan was one of the blue wall states that Trump flipped in 2016. It will be a battleground again in November.

MARTIN: Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders both canceled rallies that they were supposed to have last night in Ohio because of the threat of coronavirus. But Biden took the opportunity after the results came in, as we noted, to give a speech in Philadelphia. Let's listen to part of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: And at this moment, when there's so much fear in the country and there's so much fear across the world, we need American leadership. We need presidential leadership that's honest, trusted, truthful and steady.

MARTIN: What did you take away from his speech?

LIASSON: That clip says it all. You know, we've seen a lot of different types of Joe Biden speeches. We've seen rambly (ph) ones and shouty ones. But this one was purposefully calm, sending a clear message in a crisis. He's going to give a whole speech tomorrow about the coronavirus. But that speech was meant to be a contrast to Donald Trump's sometimes chaotic leadership style. It was calm, steady, serious, very presidential, even down to the atmospherics. He gave it in Constitutional Hall. He and his wife were dressed a little more formally than they have been in other primary nights.

MARTIN: Yeah.

LIASSON: Everything about it was meant to meet the moment; the moment is a public health crisis, not just a primary.

MARTIN: And we should just note, Bernie Sanders did not address his supporters last night. Instead, he went home to Vermont, presumably to assess his path forward. NPR's Mara Liasson for us. Thanks, Mara.

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