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Joe Biden wins Washington state — showing just how much momentum he’s picked up

Sanders previously won the state’s caucuses handily in 2016.

Joe Biden speaks in Columbia, South Carolina on February 29, 2020.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Joe Biden just won Washington state — further solidifying his delegate lead against Bernie Sanders, who won the state handily in 2016. The results were called nearly a week after the state’s primary Election Day.

Given Washington’s more progressive lean, this Biden victory, in particular, highlights just how much momentum he’s picked up since Super Tuesday. Four years ago, Sanders won the Washington caucuses by nearly 45 points, while losing a nonbinding primary that took place later in the year. (In 2016, the state held a caucus in March and a nonbinding primary in May — a practice that’s required by state law — though only the outcome of the former mattered in the delegates race.)

This time around, the state has opted to switch entirely from a caucus to primary with mail-in ballots, and the change likely helped Biden. Sanders in the past has performed very strongly in caucuses because of how dedicated his base of voters is, but in multiple states that switched their method of voting this cycle — including both Minnesota and Washington — he’s fallen short.

Polling ahead of the election had Biden and Sanders neck-and-neck with one another: According to the RealClearPolitics average, Biden was up by just two points with 41.5 percent support the Monday before the primary, while Sanders had 39.5 percent.

Biden’s gains from Washington — which has 89 pledged delegates — are notable, in part because the state was seen as one that could give Sanders a much-needed boost.

Questions about voter turnout had also emerged in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, which the state has been dealing with in recent weeks. Because Washington has such an accessible mail-in ballot system, however, many voters were still likely able to participate while following public health officials’ guidance about remaining home when possible. (Voters received mail-in ballots at least 18 days before the election and were able to submit them through election day.)

Biden’s success in Washington offers a tough message for Sanders as four more states go to the polls on Tuesday, even amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“Here we are, a really blue state, very progressive, very supportive of Bernie four years ago,” former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, a Biden supporter, told Politico. “So, if Bernie Sanders can’t win, and win big here, I think that is a really troubling message for the campaign for Bernie Sanders.”

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