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Joe Biden wins the Illinois primary

The former vice president defeated Bernie Sanders in Illinois.

Joe Biden speaks to guests at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition Annual International Convention in Chicago, Illinois on June 28, 2019.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covered business and economics for Vox and wrote the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has won the Democratic presidential primary in Illinois, gaining more ground as the party’s 2020 frontrunner.

The former vice president has been steadily gaining momentum following the South Carolina primary, Super Tuesday, and the March 10 primaries. And he came into Tuesday, March 17, well positioned to win in multiple states, including Illinois, the state his former boss Barack Obama represented in the US Senate. While some polling showed a small lead in the state for Sen. Bernie Sanders in February, by March, polling gave Biden a commanding lead.

A total of 155 pledged delegates are up for grabs in Illinois, not an insignificant amount of the total 1,991 needed for candidates to clinch the nomination. Biden’s win will yield him the majority of those 155 delegates, and will help him to further build on his delegate lead on Sanders.

It also will allow him to make a stronger electability case: Demographically, Illinois is among the states that most closely matches the Democratic electorate of the United States. That’s why there has been some suggestion among politicians and experts that it should come first in the primary process, instead of Iowa and New Hampshire, which are largely rural and white. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker seized on this fact in February, tweeting that Illinois should be “first in the nation” to vote.

Biden’s victory marks the second consecutive presidential primary loss for Sanders in the state: Hillary Clinton defeated the Vermont senator in Illinois in 2016, but not by a wide margin — the difference in the popular vote between the pair was about two percentage points, and the delegate split was nearly even.

Although we don’t yet have final results, the vote count so far suggests the delegate split will favor Biden this time. Obama likely could have tipped the scales more for Biden had he wanted, given his roots in the state, but he has thus far declined to endorse any candidates.

But the former vice president did pick up a number of key endorsements heading into the Illinois primary, including from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, and multiple members of the House of Representatives. Leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union backed Sanders, as did many state and local leaders.

Heading into Tuesday, state officials in Illinois encouraged voters to practice social distancing in light of coronavirus fears, leading to some question about whether vote totals would differ from polling. Despite a request from the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners that the state shut down in-person voting and a shortage of poll workers, polls were kept open, a decision that appeared to lead to low turnout.

Illinois is a reliably blue state, and thus probably won’t see a ton of campaigning heading into the general election in November. But before then, Biden will need more big wins to secure the nomination — his next chance to do so will come in April, when delegate-rich states Pennsylvania and New York are scheduled to vote.

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