Biden wins Mississippi and Missouri in early blow to Sanders

WASHINGTON (AP) — Joe Biden delivered decisive wins in Missouri and Mississippi on Tuesday, dealing an early blow to Bernie Sanders on a night when six states were up for grabs.

Both men were focused intensely on Michigan, the night’s biggest prize. That's where the Vermont senator scored an upset that lent much-needed credibility to his 2016 primary challenge of Hillary Clinton — and where President Donald Trump's victory four years was so narrow that Democrats are desperate to show they have the strength to flip it back. The former vice president made a final push there in recent days, rallying autoworkers and touting a fresh round of high-profile endorsements.

Beyond Michigan, Sanders could get a boost in Idaho, North Dakota or Washington state, where polls haven't yet closed.

Even as the contours of the race took shape, the campaigns faced new uncertainty amid fears of the spreading coronavirus. Sanders and Biden both abruptly canceled public events in Ohio that were scheduled for Tuesday night. Sanders' campaign said all future events would be decided on a case-by-case basis, while Biden called off a scheduled stop in Florida. The Democratic National Committee also said that Sunday's debate between Sanders and Biden would be conducted without an audience.

Tuesday marked the first time voters weighed in on the Democratic contest since it effectively narrowed to a two-person race between Sanders and Biden. It was a test of whether Sanders can broaden his appeal among African Americans after earlier setbacks in the South. Biden, meanwhile, sought to show that he can keep momentum going after his surprise Super Tuesday turnaround.

As soon as polls closed in Mississippi and Missouri at 8 p.m. Eastern time, The Associated Press declared Biden the winner in both states’ Democratic presidential primary.

The AP called Biden the winner even though state officials had yet to release any results from Tuesday’s election. The news agency did so based on results from AP VoteCast, its wide-ranging survey of the American electorate. That election research captures the views of voters on whom they vote for, and why.

The VoteCast survey showed Biden with a wide lead in both states. Importantly, Biden was leading in all parts of both states. He led among both men and women, as well as among both white voters and African American voters.

With 125 delegates at stake, Michigan got most of the attention Tuesday. Trump won the state by only about 10,000 votes during the general election in 2016, and Democrats are eager to take it back.

A win for Biden might show his party he can do it again against Trump in November. But Sanders presented himself as a credible alternative and aimed to block Biden from piling up a wide lead in delegates to the Democratic National Convention this summer in Milwaukee.

Sanders has predicted victory in Michigan and scrapped a scheduled Mississippi stop to spend more time there. Biden went there less frequently, but sought late-breaking support there and toured an auto plant in Detroit on Tuesday.

“You’re the best damn workers in the world!” Biden shouted through a megaphone at the auto plant as workers in hard hats chanted, “Joe! Joe!”

Biden ticked off the names of six former presidential rivals who have endorsed him just in the past week, saying he is "the candidate that they think can win." The former vice president has campaigned in recent days with two of them, Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, and appeared with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. All three have been mentioned as possible vice presidential picks if Biden wins the nomination.

The confidence Biden exudes is a remarkable turnaround for someone who just two weeks ago looked to be falling too far behind Sanders to catch up. Now he's trying to present an air of inevitability as the primary race's winner.

It wasn't all good feelings, though. At the auto plant, Biden was interrupted repeatedly by protesters angered by his support for the North American Free Trade Agreement and reluctance to embrace sweeping environmental proposals outlined in the Green New Deal. In a scuffle with demonstrators, Biden senior adviser Symone Sanders was knocked to the ground but unhurt.

Biden also endured a testy exchange with a worker who accused him of “actively trying to end our Second Amendment right.” Biden responded, “You're full of shit,” and went on to say that while he supports the Second Amendment, “Do you need 100 rounds?” His gun control plan reinstates the assault weapons ban and includes a voluntary buyback program for assault weapons, stopping short of a mandatory buyback program that some of his opponents had supported in the primary.

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Democratic primaries on March 10, 2020
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Democratic primaries on March 10, 2020
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., visits custodian Davonta Bynes, from left, principal DaRhonda Evans-Stewart and social worker Kim Little outside a polling location at Warren E. Bow Elementary School in Detroit, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., visits outside a polling location at Warren E. Bow Elementary School in Detroit, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Voters leave a polling location at Bow Elementary in Detroit, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Voters arrive with masks in light of the coronavirus COVID-19 health concern at Warren E. Bow Elementary School in Detroit, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., visits outside a polling location at Warren E. Bow Elementary School in Detroit, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Voters mark their ballots at the Lauderdale County courthouse annex in Meridian Miss., Tuesday, March 10, 2020. (Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star via AP)
Amour Fowler, a Jackson, Miss., precinct poll manager delivers a ballot to a curbside voter in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, March 10, 2020. Mississippi is one of several states holding presidential party primaries today. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
A voter walks into a Jackson, Miss., precinct, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. Mississippi is one of several states holding presidential party primaries today. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Bernell Jeuitt uses a special ballot reading machine for visually or hearing impaired or handicapped voters in a Jackson, Miss., precinct, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. Mississippi is one of several states holding party primaries today. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Voters work on their ballots in the kiosks in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, March 10, 2020. Mississippi is one of several states holding presidential party primaries today. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
A Democratic presidential primary ballot sits next to a roll of "I Voted" stickers in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, March 10, 2020. Mississippi is one of several states holding presidential party primaries today. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
A voter takes advantage of the hand sanitizer to "clean up" after voting in the presidential party primary in Ridgeland, Miss., Tuesday, March 10, 2020. Polling locations are providing hand sanitizers for voters to use as a cautionary measure in light of the coronavirus health concern nationwide. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
A voter accepts an "I Voted" sticker from Ridgeland, Miss., precinct worker Cliff Smith, right, as she exits after voting in the party presidential primary, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Wearing gloves, a King County Election worker collect ballots from a drop box in the Washington State primary, Tuesday, March 10, 2020, in Seattle. Washington is a vote by mail state. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)
King County Election workers collect ballots from a drop box in the Washington State primary, Tuesday, March 10, 2020 in Seattle. Washington is a vote by mail state. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)
Voters drop off ballots in the Washington State primary, Tuesday, March 10, 2020 in Seattle. Washington is a vote by mail state. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)
A sign restricting visitors is displayed on the door at the Issaquah Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Issaquah, east of Seattle, the site of the latest death from the new coronavirus in Washington state on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. The Issaquah Nursing and Rehabilitation Center on Tuesday, announced that five residents and two staff have tested positive for the new coronavirus. They said a resident also died over the weekend. (AP Photo/Martha Bellisle)
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Although he has rejected notions he could drop out of the race if Tuesday goes badly, Sanders says he is now battling the “Democratic establishment."

"In a general election, which candidate can generate the enthusiasm and the excitement and the voter turnout we need?” Sanders asked.

Detroit neighbors Fayette Turner and Margaret Marsh were split on which to support: Turner voted for Sanders on Tuesday, while Marsh voted for Biden. But they agreed on one thing: the desire to beat Trump.

"Anybody but Trump," Turner, 64, said. Marsh, 69, said her family has identified as Republican her entire life -- until Trump took office.

“I think Biden's the sanest one left," Marsh said. "Hopefully he'll have a good vice president.”

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