Joe Biden wins three major primaries, NBC News projects, as he beefs up delegate lead

Key Points
  • Joe Biden will win the Democratic primary elections in Florida, Illinois and Arizona over Bernie Sanders, NBC News projects. 
  • The former vice president had nearly 62% of the vote in Florida with more than 90% of precincts reporting.
  • Biden had won 1,132 national delegates to Sanders' 817 as of late Tuesday, according to NBC.
Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks as Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) listen behind him during a campaign rally held at the University of South Florida Campus Recreation Building on October 22, 2018 in Tampa, Florida.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images

Joe Biden will win Florida's Democratic primary, NBC News projected Tuesday, taking another huge step toward the 2020 Democratic nomination in the shadow of the coronavirus.

He would pile up delegates with wins in Illinois and Arizona on Tuesday night, as well.

The former vice president looked headed for a blowout, setting him up for a trove of delegates as he pushes to take on President Donald Trump in November. With more than 90% of results in Tuesday, he had about 62% of the vote, compared to about 23% for Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Florida's primary allocates 219 pledged delegates, making it one of the biggest prizes on the calendar. Biden will win at least 148 delegates, while Sanders will come away with at least 33. 

Biden had won 1,132 national delegates to Sanders' 817 as of late Tuesday, according to NBC. A candidate needs 1,991 delegates to clinch the party's nomination.

Speaking from his home in Wilmington, Delaware, on Tuesday night, Biden said "tackling this pandemic is a national emergency akin to fighting a war." He seemed to endorse the states moving ahead with their elections with precautions, saying "it's important for us to get through this crisis protecting both the public health and our democracy."

"Our campaign has had a very good night. We moved closer to securing the Democratic Party's nomination for president," he said after projected wins in both Florida and Illinois. He spoke directly to Sanders' supporters, saying he and his opponent "may disagree on tactics, but we share a common vision" on the need to make health care more affordable, reduce income inequality and curb climate change. 

Florida forged ahead with its primary despite fears about the outbreak that forced Ohio, another state set to vote Tuesday, to stop in-person voting. The state said it took steps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease while voters cast ballots, including by giving poll workers disinfecting materials and moving polling sites away from high-risk places such as hospitals and nursing homes.

Even so, some local elections officials reported having to find replacements for poll workers. Nearly 2 million people had voted early or by mail by Tuesday morning, according to state data.

Biden had a few demographic advantages in Florida. Biden typically dominates among older voters, and Florida has a higher median age than the typical U.S. state. 

Roughly 70% of Tuesday's electorate was older than 45, according to a primary poll conducted by news networks before Election Day. They did not take regular in-person exit polls because of coronavirus outbreak fears.

Florida also has a larger share of black voters than the typical U.S. state, and the voting bloc has overwhelmingly supported Biden over Sanders in contests so far. Roughly three-quarters of black voters surveyed in Tuesday's primary poll backed the former vice president.

In addition, surveys suggest Sanders did not enjoy as much success among Latino voters in Florida as he did in other states.

As the U.S. tries to curb the spread of the coronavirus and take steps to avoid catastrophe for workers and companies, the survey also asked voters who they trust more to handle a "major crisis." About seven-in-10 in Florida chose Biden over Sanders.

Sanders spoke before all the polls closed in Florida about how to combat the health crisis and economic disaster posed by the pandemic. He did not address the primary or campaign plans.

Biden is set to speak later Tuesday night.

— CNBC's Kayla Tausche contributed to this report

— Graphic by CNBC's John Schoen

This story is developing. Please check back for updates. 

Subscribe to CNBC on YouTube.