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With states moving primaries due to coronavirus, Joe Biden may not be the presumptive Democratic nominee until June

Joe Biden spoke earlier this month about the coronavirus.
Joe Biden spoke earlier this month about the coronavirus.Drew Angerer/Getty

Former vice president Joe Biden might be acting like he is the 2020 Democratic nominee. Republicans and media coverage of the presidential race largely accept the premise. Even Senator Bernie Sanders, the remaining primary opponent, has mostly stopped attacking Biden.

But here’s the twist: because of a number of states have pushed back their primary contests hoping to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, Biden won’t technically be the presumptive Democratic nominee — with a majority of pledged delegates — for a very long time.

As it stands, 30 states, territories, and “Democrats abroad” have voted in the Democratic presidential primary race. There are 27 contests to go.


With the coronavirus now a deadly reality, a number of states have decided that having people standing in long lines and using the same voting equipment is not the best idea from a public health perspective.

The most popular date that states have moved presidential primaries to seems to be June 2. That date suddenly now will award more delegates in a single day all year except for Super Tuesday, March 3, when 14 states voted, including California.

There are now a whopping 11 contests on June 2, including high-delegate states like Ohio and New Jersey. Two New England states, Rhode Island and Connecticut, are also set to vote then.

In all, 636 delegates will be up for grabs on June 2. It is a number that could grow should more states decide to postpone their primaries to dates in June, the last possible month to hold a contest under the current Democratic National Committee rules. (The Democratic National Convention is scheduled for July, but if it actually happens is in doubt.)

All that means that Biden probably won’t have the title of “presumptive Democratic nominee” until June because of the coronavirus.


Biden currently has 1,215 delegates, according to the Associated Press. He needs 1,991 delegates to have a majority of delegates at the Democratic convention and be the presumptive Democratic nominee. Even if Sanders dropped out today and Biden got every single delegate going forward, he still wouldn’t hit 1,991 delegates until May 19. Part of this is a function of there not being another election scheduled until April 4, when Hawaii votes, largely by mail.

In Wisconsin, the Democratic National Committee and the state Democratic Party are suing the state to give voters more time to register ahead of the April 7 contest — and it is unclear if officials will move that date. Originally, state elections officials balked at the nearly $7 million price tag involved in changing the primary.

So what about Sanders? First, it is nearly inconceivable mathematically that he will have the delegates to be the Democratic nominee. He would need to win over 64 percent of all remaining delegates and he is currently down at least 20 points to Biden in national polls. Second, we are living in crazy times and, there is less of a reason to drop out. After all, anything could happen to Biden’s campaign.

Becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee might sound like a formality, but historically, it is actually a big deal. It is the moment when all of the party infrastructure comes in line and officially makes plans for the general election. For donors, there is general election money to raise. For unions, there are endorsements to grant and staffing in swing states and messaging to align, with the candidate’s message. There is also a convention to plan around the presumptive nominee’s preferences.


Oh, and also picking a vice president for the ticket.

While Americans rightly focus their attention on how COVID-19 impacts their life and their health, the outbreak not only puts Biden’s campaign on pause in the short term but also delays his ability to pivot to the general election as quickly as he would like.

James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell.