Sunday’s Biden v. Sanders debate will go on, CNN says
Public health fears may be upending events across the nation, but Sunday’s potentially pivotal debate in Phoenix between Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders is still a go. CNN said on Tuesday that the televised matchup at the Arizona Federal Theater would be held as scheduled, amid some speculation that coronavirus concerns could derail the network’s plans.
“There is currently no talk of canceling the debate,” a CNN spokeswoman said in a statement, adding that the network was still expecting the candidates to appear in front of a live audience.
Sunday’s event, from 8 to 10 p.m. Eastern, is set to follow a town hall-style format, where the candidates will respond to questions from voters as well as the moderators. CNN and Univision are the sponsors, with the anchors Dana Bash, Jorge Ramos, and Jake Tapper serving as moderators, along with the Univision correspondent Ilia Calderón.
Television audiences have grown as the Democratic field has narrowed, with the last two Democratic debates notching big ratings. Sunday’s event promises the first head-to-head meeting of Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders, ahead of next Tuesday’s primaries in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio.
Journalists at CNN have been barred by the company from nonessential travel, with the network’s president, Jeff Zucker, personally reviewing requests for intercontinental trips. Campaign reporters, though, have been largely exempt from those restrictions, and hundreds of journalists are expected to fly to Phoenix this weekend to cover the debate in person.
In Michigan, Biden swears at man during argument over guns
On the morning of the Michigan primary, Mr. Biden swore at a man during a heated exchange about guns while the former vice president was visiting a new Fiat Chrysler Automobiles assembly plant under construction in Detroit.
Mr. Biden was shaking hands and taking pictures with workers, many of them wearing fluorescent vests and hard hats, when one man accused him of trying to “take away our guns.”
“You’re full of shit,” Mr. Biden responded, adding, “I support the Second Amendment.”
The two men got into a back-and-forth about Mr. Biden’s views on guns and his positions on gun control. Mr. Biden noted that he was a gun owner and said, “I’m not taking your gun away at all.” Later in the exchange, he told the man, “Don’t be such a horse’s ass.”
Mr. Biden has occasionally sparred with voters at his events, sometimes in heated exchanges. At a campaign event in Iowa in December, he angrily lashed out at a man who raised questions about his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine, calling him a “damn liar.” After the man said Mr. Biden was too old to be president, Mr. Biden suggested the man do push-ups or go running with him.
These kinds of exchanges could cut two ways for Mr. Biden. Some voters might see it as a troubling example of displaying his temper, undermining his efforts to cast himself as a steady, measured leader. Others have said they approve of Mr. Biden responding forcefully to attacks; they have urged him to show more vigor in campaign trail interactions ahead of a possible showdown with the president, an unapologetic brawler.
Biden tries to explain his Iraq war vote ahead of a one-on-one debate with Sanders
Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders are scheduled to debate head-to-head for the first time on Sunday in Phoenix.
One issue that could be a flash point: Mr. Biden voted in 2002 to authorize the use of military force in Iraq, something Mr. Sanders opposed. And the former Delaware senator has struggled, at times, to accurately explain his vote.
In an interview Monday night with Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC, Mr. Biden said: “The reason I voted the way I did was to try to prevent a war from happening, because remember, the threat was to go to war. The argument was because Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”
President George W. Bush, Mr. Biden said, was agitating for ways to put more pressure on Hussein.
Mr. Biden added: “I didn’t believe he had those nuclear weapons. I didn’t believe he had those weapons of mass destruction.”
Yet at the time, Mr. Biden expressed grave concerns about Hussein and his “relentless pursuit of weapons of mass destruction,” as he put it in a New York Times Op-Ed he wrote with Senator Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana.
Mr. Biden has repeatedly called his decision to authorize the war a mistake. (Read more about how he arrived at his decision here.)
“The idea that Bernie Sanders’s judgment on foreign policy is superior to mine, I find — I’m anxious to debate him on that question,” Mr. Biden said in the MSNBC interview.
How strong is Biden?
Mr. Biden has had a remarkable two-week stretch: He entered the South Carolina primary confronting grave uncertainty about his future in the race, and concluded the night with an extraordinary jolt of momentum that propelled him to victory in 10 of the 14 states that voted three days later on Super Tuesday.
Now he faces favorable terrain in Mississippi, a state with a diverse Democratic electorate that Mr. Sanders has virtually conceded to him. He has also drawn large crowds in Missouri.
The biggest fight of the night for both men is shaping up to be Michigan, a large delegate prize where Mr. Sanders has focused much of his energy in recent days.
If Mr. Biden can roll to a decisive victory over Mr. Sanders in Michigan — as polls have suggested he might — there is the possibility that he may effectively wrap up the nomination at a time when Democratic voters are eager to turn their focus to President Trump, though Mr. Sanders’s next moves would be unclear.
If the race is narrower or if Mr. Sanders pulls off a victory, Democrats could head into a long primary slog.
What’s at stake for Sanders?
Mr. Sanders needs to dent the sense of inevitability of Mr. Biden’s nomination. That means a larger than expected win, with Washington and Michigan being the most likely of the delegate-rich opportunities.
Ideally, for the Sanders campaign, he would show improvement among black voters in the South and keep losses to a minimum in a state like Mississippi. However, considering Mr. Sanders pulled out of an event there this week, the campaign may see this as a pipe dream. Instead, flanked by figures like the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Representative Rashida Tlaib in Detroit, he is hoping to dent losses among black voters in Northern states.
But in the end, it really doesn’t matter why — or how. Mr. Sanders just needs to surprise.
Why is Michigan so important?
Michigan is the most closely watched state voting on Tuesday. That is in part because Mr. Sanders scored a surprise upset there that prolonged the Democratic primary race four years ago. And it is because Michigan is a Midwestern bellwether: If Mr. Sanders cannot revive his campaign there, he is unlikely to perform much better when Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin vote in the weeks to come.
But Mr. Biden appears strong in Michigan. Every public poll has him leading by double digits, and the question now may be just how wide of a margin he will enjoy on Tuesday.
Watch three constituencies: African-Americans, college-educated white voters and the rural Michiganders who supported Mr. Sanders in large numbers in 2016.
The first two groups make up the former vice president’s Super Tuesday coalition and, with former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York out of the presidential race, are poised to support Mr. Biden again. And if Mr. Biden can make inroads with those rural voters, some of whom supported Mr. Sanders in 2016 because they were uneasy with Hillary Clinton, Michigan will hand him a decisive win.
Can Biden run up the score in Mississippi?
Mississippi could prove to be one of Mr. Biden’s strongest states on the entire primary calendar. It is the most heavily African-American state in the country, and black voters have been the former vice president’s most loyal constituency.
Recognizing Mr. Biden’s advantage, Mr. Sanders canceled a planned visit to Jackson, Miss., where he has the support of the mayor, Chokwe Lumumba.
The question looming over the race in Mississippi, where Mr. Biden attended church services on Sunday, is just how many of its 36 delegates the former vice president can win. In 2016, Ms. Clinton won with more than 80 percent of the vote, taking all but five of Mississippi’s delegates.
Given Mr. Sanders’s strength with younger voters, Mr. Biden may not win with as large of a margin Tuesday. But the more delegates he wins in Mississippi, the harder he will make it for Mr. Sanders to mount a comeback on more favorable terrain.
What about Washington, North Dakota and Idaho?
One problem for Mr. Sanders is that these three states, where he is favored to do better generally, award fewer delegates. Washington is a must-win state for Mr. Sanders, with its well-educated liberal population where progressive ideas are popular. It has 89 delegates — a good chunk — but less than Michigan.
Mr. Sanders won North Dakota in 2016, but the state only has 14 delegates. Idaho has switched from a caucus system to a primary voting system, and he has tended to do better in the former. Mr. Sanders also won Idaho in 2016 — and is expected to do well there again. There are 20 delegates up for grabs in Idaho, and Mr. Sanders would need a dominating performance across these states to eat into the lead Mr. Biden has from states like Mississippi, which are expected to be blowouts.
Will potential Biden victories this Tuesday propel him into next week’s contests?
Some of the biggest delegate prizes of the campaign are up for grabs next Tuesday: Florida, Illinois and Ohio, as well as Arizona, which awards fewer delegates but is a state that Democrats hope will be competitive in a general election.
The results of this Tuesday’s races could help determine just how competitive the upcoming contests will be.
If Mr. Sanders falls short in Michigan, for example, that could signal challenges for him in Ohio, another state in the industrial Midwest that supported President Trump in the general election, while a victory in Michigan would suggest a major Rust Belt battle still to come with Mr. Biden.
Can Mr. Biden deliver a sufficiently dominant performance on Tuesday to propel him to victory in large states next week, or are Democrats in for more weeks of fierce battling?
Michael Grynbaum contributed reporting.