Just about one month and a million years ago, the Democratic presidential contest was going full tilt.
Voters in 14 states and American Samoa went to the polls — many standing less than a socially distant six feet apart — to cast Super Tuesday ballots and revive the fading presidential hopes of Joe Biden.
Today, like so much else, the contest has screeched to a virtual halt. The novel coronavirus has Biden and Bernie Sanders off the campaign trail. Political rallies — or anything, for that matter, involving large numbers of people gathered in one place — are forbidden across much of the country.
Still, the calendar moves inexorably toward summer and the Democrats’ nominating convention and, beyond that, the Nov. 3 general election. That raises a number of questions.
Q. Is Biden now the Democratic nominee?
A. No, he is not, though the former vice president has built a seemingly insurmountable lead against Sanders.
Q. How’s that?
A. It takes 1,991 pledged delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot at the convention scheduled to begin July 13 in Milwaukee. (More on that in a moment.)
Biden leads Sanders 1,217 to 914 delegates, according to the Associated Press. While that may not seem like a huge gap, it would take something of a miracle for the Vermont senator to catch up.
Q. Why’s that?
A. Democrats award their delegates on a proportional, rather than winner-take-all, basis. That makes it exceedingly difficult for a candidate to catch up once they have fallen as far behind as Sanders because there is little chance to make up significant ground, short of winning one landslide victory after another.
Given the results to date, there is absolutely nothing to suggest that kind of Sanders performance is in the offing.
Q. Oh yeah, smarty-pants? Let’s wait and see!
A. We’ll have to wait a while.
A. Nearly a dozen states have delayed their voting for at least several weeks, leaving just small-scale, mail-only contests in Hawaii on April 4, Alaska on April 10 and Wyoming on April 17. Wisconsin, a key November battleground, will vote on April 7, with voters there urged to cast their ballots by mail.
After that, it’s three weeks before the next big contests, in New York and Pennsylvania, are scheduled to take place — though given the drastic restrictions on everyday living it seems doubtful those primaries will come off as planned.
Apart from those two states, voting is also due to be completed on April 28 in Ohio, which postponed its March 17 primary, though final results won’t be known until May 8, the deadline for its mail-in votes to be tabulated.
Q. How far in the nominating process have we gotten?
A. So far, voters in 27 states and several territories have cast their ballots, along with Democrats living abroad. In all, contests awarding nearly 60% of delegates have taken place.
With all the reshuffling, June 2 is shaping up as the biggest day left on the calendar. Nine states and the District of Columbia may end up holding their primaries on a date that would rival the Super Tuesday balloting on March 3.
Q. If Sanders can’t win, why is he still running?
A. Miracles sometimes happen.
In the meantime, Sanders sees his candidacy as an opportunity to press his progressive agenda and believes the more delegates he wins, even in a losing cause, the greater his leverage in moving the party his direction, starting with the platform drafted at the summer convention.
Besides which, White House dreams die hard. The late Arizona Rep. Morris K. Udall, an unsuccessful presidential contestant who wrote a book called “Too Funny To Be President,” once said the only cure for that sort of ambition is embalming fluid.
Q. Gee, I kind of miss seeing Joe and Bernie together onstage.
A. Uh, sorry to break it to you.
Q. Now what?
A. We’ve had 11 rounds of debate, starting in June of last year when 20 Democratic candidates took the stage over the course of two nights. The Democratic National Committee had said there would be a 12th debate sometime next month. But, for now at least, the April session appears to be on hold.
“We haven’t made any decisions,” Xochitl Hinojosa, a spokeswoman for the DNC, said when asked whether the debate would take place. “We don’t have a (media) partner or a location or a date. We’re trying to figure things out day-to-day, whether it’s safe or not.”
A spokesman for Sanders said he will be there, if and when the next debate is held. Biden seems less than enthused. “I think we’ve had enough debates,” he told reporters on a conference call Wednesday. “I think we should get on with this.”
Q. Is there a chance the Democratic convention will be canceled?
A. Hinojosa said the party is proceeding on the assumption the four-day event will be held as scheduled, beginning in mid-July, though convention planners have begun discussing contingency plans in the event a change is needed.
Regardless of how it’s done — by conference call, a Zoom session, via Pony Express — a Democrat will be nominated to face President Donald Trump in November.
Q. How about the Republican convention?
A. The GOP convention is set to begin in mid-August, in Charlotte, N.C., giving the party a bit more time to assess the situation. Right now, planning continues apace.
A spokesman, Rick Gorka, said the GOP remains “committed to planning a safe and successful 2020 Republican National Convention” in consultation with federal, state and local healthcare experts. “As we have done throughout our planning, we will ensure the convention prioritizes the health and safety of delegates, media, guests and community members,” Gorka said.
Q. Speaking of cancellations …
Q. Could President Trump call off the November election, blaming the COVID-19 pandemic?
A. In a word, no.
Q. Go ahead. Take a few more words and explain.
A. It’s not up to the president to decide.
In an extreme emergency Congress could put the election off for a few weeks, which seems unlikely given Democratic control of the House. But under the Constitution, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence cannot stay in office beyond their four-year terms without being chosen to serve a second term.
If the election were canceled for any reason, the rules of succession outlined in the country’s founding document would kick in and that could possibly result in a Democrat taking over the White House.
Q. I can’t imagine the president would want that to happen.
A. Me neither.
(Times staff writer Janet Hook contributed to this report.)
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