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2020 Daily Trail Markers: Primaries in the time of coronavirus

Trump says coronavirus could last until August

Joe Biden is poised to collect a majority of delegates across the states set to wrap up their primaries Tuesday says CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin, if recent polls of FloridaIllinois, and Arizona are correct. 

A judge rejected the Ohio governor's call earlier Monday to postpone in-person voting until June 2, according to CBS News producer Rebecca Kaplan, CBS News Political Unit associate producer Eleanor Watson and CBSNews.com's Jason Silverstein. Governor Mike Dewine had argued that voting Tuesday "does not conform and cannot conform with these CDC guidelines." DeWine declared in a press conference Monday, "We cannot conduct this election tomorrow." DeWine noted that he did not have the unilateral authority to move the election date, so a group of individuals in the high-risk group filed a lawsuit in Franklin County Court, hoping that a judge would move the date.

The Florida Division of Elections Communications Team told CBS News political reporter LaCrai Mitchell that there had been no discussions about or plans to move in-person voting on Tuesday. 

Matt Dietrich, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections, said in a memo to reporters that Illinois would proceed with voting on Tuesday as scheduled. He said that changing the date would require action by the Illinois General Assembly or a court order and wrote, "we have no intention of seeking such an order nor has any other state official indicated that intent." 

At a press conference this afternoon, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said, "My office has been in consultation with election officials across the state, health experts, and leaders from the Democratic party who agree that the election should move forward tomorrow. This decision was not made lightly, and what it all comes down to is that we have no guarantee that there will be a safer time to hold this election in the near future."

If DeWine's lawsuit is not successful and primaries proceed as planned, more than 60 percent of the race's pledged delegates will have been allocated after tomorrow's primaries are decided, note CBS News political unit associate producer Ellee Watson and political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro, with 577 delegates up for grabs across the four states. 

As the novel coronavirus pandemic is dramatically changing American life, so too has it dominated the final days before tomorrow's key contests. Since voters went to cast ballots from Michigan to Washington state less than a week ago, door-knocking has ground to a halt as campaign staff hole up at home. The outbreak took center stage at the 11th debate of the cycle on Sunday, consuming much of the first one-on-one between the two candidates. And both campaigns have shifted to holding only remote events. Biden surrogates urged Ohio supporters at "tele-town halls" over the weekend to cast ballots at polling sites they said would be "clean, safe, sanitized." A Sanders campaign co-chair called on Arizona to push back its primary. Compared to the day before the primary in 2016, Illinois has sent out nearly double the number of mail ballots so far this year. And election officials in Florida, like in the other two states, have moved polling sites out of senior facilities.

But even as schools and businesses have shuttered over the virus, officials in tomorrow's remaining contests have insisted that their election would continue. "We're definitely voting," Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said of the state's contest on Friday, by far the largest delegate prize of tomorrow's primaries, despite a climbing death toll in the state from the outbreak. "They voted during the Civil War. We are going to vote."

CONGRESSIONAL COVERAGE

IN THE SENATE

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill is requesting a postponement of the March 31st Republican primary runoff between Tommy Tuberville and Jeff Sessions because of coronavirus concerns, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson. Merrill has requested emergency opinion from the attorney general's Office on whether or not the governor can postpone the election under emergency powers. Governor Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency on Friday. Currently, the law in Alabama does not allow for the suspension, delay, or postponement of an election once the date is set, according to a statement from the secretary of state's office.  Secretary Merrill has already taken measures so that Alabamians who are concerned about contracting or spreading an illness can vote absentee. Last week, he said any person in the state is able to apply for an absentee ballot. Voters normally are only allowed to vote absentee if they are out of town or have a physical illness. The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is Thursday, March 26, and the last day to postmark a ballot is March 31. 

IN THE HOUSE

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, both House campaign arms have been issuing guidance to members and candidates on how to campaign without person-to-person contact, reports CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro. 

The National Republican Congressional Committee released a memo Monday morning urging candidates, among other things, to not fundraise off the pandemic and to not spread disinformation in their press releases. "At times like this you need to ask yourself if your press release or snarky comment are in poor taste. If you share information on the coronavirus, do it from trusted sources like the Center for Disease Control and the Department of Health and Human Services," the memo said. 

The NRCC's guidance comes after public comments and actions from some Republicans that contrast from federal recommendations on going out to bars or restaurants. "If you're healthy, you and your family, it's a great time to go out and go to a local restaurant, likely you can get in easily. Let's not hurt the working people in this country that are relying on wages and tips to keep their small business going," Representative Devin Nunes said on Fox News on Sunday. "Just don't run to the grocery store and buy $4,000 worth of groceries, you know, go to your local pub."

A Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson told Navarro they've been urging candidates and members to "err toward caution in all decision making" and to think outside the box when it comes to campaigning through telethon and virtual town halls on Facebook. "This is an rapidly-developing public health emergency, and we're asking campaigns to keep the safety of their staffs, volunteers, and voters in mind," a spokesperson said. Both campaign arms have told staff to work from home, and are encouraging members and candidates to limit in-person grassroots events. 

Following the vote on the House coronavirus relief bill, the DCCC issued press releases slamming House Republicans who voted no. The NRCC criticized this type of messaging, and said in its memo, "Democrats are shamelessly politicizing this pandemic, and it has gone largely unchecked by the cable news talking heads."

In Illinois' 3rd District, Democrat challenger Marie Newman hit hard on incumbent Congressman Dan Lipinski over the weekend for not voting on the House coronavirus relief bill, and for holding campaign events back in the Chicago suburbs. "He was politicking at home in Chicago, and lobbing nasty attacks at me on social media," a Newman fundraising email said. "For Dan Lipinski, it seems like keeping his job is more important than doing his job." 

STATE-BY-STATE

NEW YORK

On Monday, the New York Assembly Speaker issued a statement saying the legislature would postpone its session "until later this week" due to the coronavirus. The legislature was scheduled to convene on Monday afternoon to vote on coronavirus bills. "For the purposes of efficiency as well as the public health and safety of members and staff, session will be postponed until later this week, possibly Wednesday," Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said in a statement. In a press conference on Sunday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he still wanted the legislature to convene and called government "an essential operation to manage this situation." 

On Monday, Cuomo said he was fine delaying the session until Wednesday, but he noted that the budget is due April 1. CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster says it came a day after Iowa's legislative leaders announced they were suspending their session for at least 30 days due to coronavirus. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 11 other state legislatures had suspended their sessions as of March 14.

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