Biden Pulls Out to Huge Early Lead in Florida Primary

(CN) – In the face of a nationwide coronavirus outbreak, Florida voters on Tuesday trickled into their polling places to send Vice President Joe Biden to an overwhelming victory in a primary election almost predetermined by polls.

With 98% of the precincts reporting, Biden routed Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders by 62% to 23%.

“Our campaign has had a very good night,” Biden said during a livestreamed victory speech from his home in Wilmington, Delaware.

Biden thanked polling workers and public health officials for keeping voting sites clean and open for voters looking to cast ballots.

“It is important for us to get through this crisis, protecting both the public health and our democracy,” Biden said.

Florida held its primary with sprays of disinfectant and shuffling of polling places, even as another large battleground state, Ohio, postponed voting until June. The Sunshine State joins Arizona and Illinois in a less-than-super Tuesday primary.

“I can’t believe how dead it is,” Casey Peach said when she walked out of a polling station in St. Petersburg. “When I was here [in 2016], I had to wait 20 minutes outside.”

Peach, in a grey sweatshirt pinned with an “I Voted” sticker, was one of a half dozen voters in an hour who cast their ballot at one of the largest polling places in south St. Petersburg, a predominately black, Democratic stronghold.

“I’m hoping it’s not already decided,” said Peach, who dwelled on her decision for weeks before siding with Sanders.

“I ended up ‘Feeling the Bern,’” she said, referring to one of the progressive candidate’s slogans. “I may feel the burn later.”

A polling place in seen in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Tuesday. (CNS Photo/Alex Pickett)

At the St. Petersburg polling place and others throughout the state, workers constantly wiped down touch voting screens and pens used on paper ballots.

So far, Florida has 216 coronavirus cases. The state’s Department of Health announced a seventh death on Tuesday.

The coronavirus seemed to infect everyone’s minds at the polls.

“The U.S. should have been prepared a long time ago,” said Bobby Haines, 60. “We are the country that’s supposed to be on top of things like this. What is our president doing?”

Haines, a convicted felon, walked into a polling place with his girlfriend. He didn’t vote, despite supervisors of elections across the state who urged felons to vote amid a contentious lawsuit over their ability to.

Haines said he would have voted for Biden and his girlfriend, who joined him mid-conversation, did herself.

“To me, the president should have got these tests and protective gear done,” he said. “Maybe if we had someone there [in the presidency] that was more concerned.”

In South Florida, where mayors began closing beaches Monday at the beginning of spring break, concerns over coronavirus relocated several polling stations.

Some South Florida voters such as Gina Williams, a Miami native, were misinformed and went to the wrong precinct.

“I’m voting for Joe Biden,” said Williams. “I think he’s a decent person, and he will do good for the country. I also like his proposal for climate change.”

Dozens of public schools across Miami- Dade County also opened polling centers for the community.

Melissa Pais, 34, said that she went to her assigned precinct at Calusa Elementary School but couldn’t vote because she was not affiliated to a political party.

“I wanted to vote for Bernie Sanders,” said Pais, who has lived in Miami for 23 years. “He seems to be the best choice for our country.”

She added, “I’d like to see a change. And I believe that Sanders is offering a health care plan that is beneficial for everyone, and he also supports a more humanitarian and open immigration reform.”

A polling place worker adjusts gloves as she tends to a reception table Tuesday during the Florida primary election at the First United Methodist Church in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Polling centers in Miami, another Democratic stronghold, had no wait times.

At the precinct for Miami-Dade College in Kendall, only three people waited in line at 7 a.m.

Sandy Leoquendo and her son Nick felt confident about their vote for Sanders.

“Especially in this time right now, we could see that universal health care would’ve been a great thing for everybody to have,” said Leoquendo.

“Sanders has consistently voted against the mistakes that the American government has made in the last several decades,” her son chimed in. “Every war, every bill that has hurt the American people, he was always against it. He’s never changed his positions, he’s the most consistent candidate.”

At another precinct in the Miami suburbs, Marisa Luisa Zuniga, born in Honduras but living in the U.S. for over 20 years, said she also voted for Sanders.

“I like what he supports, his ideas and way of thinking,” said Zuniga.

In Duval County, which has one of the largest black voting blocs of the state, turnout hovered around 15%. A voting site supervisor in Jacksonville, who declined to give her name, said voters have been “steadily coming in to vote” despite the coronavirus threat.

That “everything is good here” message reverberated across the state.

On Monday, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis refused to delay the primary.

“You know, we’re dealing with it in a thoughtful way, but we’re not going to panic,” DeSantis said at a press conference. “The fact of the matter is these things can be done in ways where you’re not going to have large crowds, because it’s just one vote.”

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