Joe Biden will win the Illinois Democratic primary, NBC News projected Tuesday, notching another key win as the coronavirus pandemic drowns out the 2020 race.
The former vice president will extend a commanding run in contests against Sen. Bernie Sanders after an easy victory in Florida earlier in the night. With a big delegate haul expected from the states voting Tuesday, Biden moves closer to putting his rival out of the race to face President Donald Trump in November.
Illinois allocates 155 pledged delegates, the second biggest haul of the states voting on Tuesday. Biden will take at least 61 delegates, while Sanders will win at least 37, according to NBC.
With more than half of the votes counted, Biden led Sanders by about a 59% to 36% margin.
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 the two projected wins. 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.
Before NBC projected the victories for Biden, Sanders spoke on the need to stop the spread of coronavirus and boost workers damaged by the pandemic. He did not talk about the primary.
Illinois pledged to go ahead with its primary despite Ohio, another state set to hold a primary on Tuesday, delaying in-person voting. Illinois said it had taken precautions including working to sanitize polling places and encouraging voters to cast early and mail-in ballots.
In a statement Monday afternoon, Illinois Board of Elections spokesman Matt Dietrich said the state had seen 504,000 early votes cast and 294,000 mail ballots sent to voters, up from 400,000 and 160,000, respectively, in 2016.
In explaining why Illinois moved forward with the election, he said "there is no date in the foreseeable future when we can expect greater safety with any certainty."
Reports of issues at polling places and low turnout surfaced throughout the day Tuesday.
Voters in Illinois have concerns about economic damage as the coronavirus pandemic rages, 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.
Roughly 82% of voters in Illinois are either "very" or "somewhat" worried about the direction of the economy in the next year, according to the survey.
About 64% said they trust Biden more to handle a crisis, while 31% said they trust Sanders more.
It is unclear when Biden can finish his push to likely clinch the Democratic nomination, or if the Democratic National Committee will even hold its July convention as planned. A handful of states have already delayed their primaries.
This story is developing. Please check back for updates.