Former Vice President Joe Biden has scored sweeping victories in four of the six states holding Democratic nomination contests on Tuesday.
Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont are in a two-way battle for the Democratic party's nomination. A candidate needs at least 1991 delegates to secure the nomination, and Biden led the delegate count heading into Tuesday's contests.
At stake on Tuesday were 352 delegates. Based on partial results as of early Wednesday morning, Biden won at least 157 delegates and Sanders at least 97, according to Edison Research.
The wins put Biden, 77, on a path to the nomination to face Trump in the 3 November election. Biden became the front-runner with a series of sweeping wins over Sanders, 78, in last week's Super Tuesday contests, fuelling a wave of endorsements from prominent Democrats and a new burst of momentum for his candidacy.
Sanders, a democratic socialist and US senator from Vermont, had hoped an upset win in Michigan would keep his dwindling White House hopes alive. But he appeared to fall far short, leaving the future of his White House bid up in the air.
The Biden breakthrough in Michigan, along with his big victories in Missouri and Mississippi today, could prove too much for Sanders to overcome. By the end of March, about two-thirds of the delegates will be allocated.
Biden was powered to the victories today by strong support from a broad coalition of groups, including women, African Americans, those aged 45 and older, union members and all but the very liberal, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research.
In Michigan, he performed well with union members and working-class white voters, two groups that helped Sanders to an upset victory of Hillary Clinton in the state in 2016. They did not turn out as strongly for him this time, despite Sanders' economic populism and his call for universal healthcare.
Biden had touted the Obama administration's decision to bail out the state's dominant auto industry, and he made a morning campaign stop at Detroit's first new auto assembly plant in decades, owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.
"Unions built the country," Biden shouted through a bullhorn. "You're the best damn workers in the world."
Biden shrugged off Sanders' attacks for his support for international trade deals like the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which is unpopular in Michigan where workers say it cost the state jobs.
Thanking supporters from Philadelphia on Tuesday evening (US time), Biden said Democrats, including supporters of Bernie Sanders, they could beat Trump.
"It's more than a comeback, this campaign," he said. "It's comeback for the soul of this nation."
"Tonight we are a step closer to restoring dignity and honour to the White House," Biden added.
"We have to lead the world again," the former vice president said. "Donald Trump's America First policy has made America alone."
Sanders cancelled a planned campaign appearance in Ohio and headed home to Vermont.
With 48 percent of precincts reporting, Biden was leading in Michigan with 53 percent of the vote, versus 41 percent for Sanders.
As in earlier states, Biden's support was especially strong among black voters. In Mississippi, where two-thirds of the electorate is African American, Biden won more than eight of every 10 black voters.
A total of 352 of the nearly 4000 delegates to July's Democratic convention were up for grabs in the six states voting today, with Michigan the biggest with 125 delegates.
As fears spread about the coronavirus, voters in Michigan said they trusted Biden more than Sanders to handle a major crisis, according to exit polls.
In Washington, the state hit hardest by the coronavirus and the second-largest state to vote today, eight in 10 voters voiced concern about the outbreak's effects, with a plurality supporting Biden, according to the Edison Research exit polls.
Both candidates called off planned rallies in Cleveland because of concerns over the coronavirus outbreak, which has rattled markets and prompted Democrats to criticise the Trump administration's response.
The campaigns said they were following guidance from Ohio public health officials. Until now, Democratic candidates as well as Trump, 73, have largely continued to hold large-scale events despite the outbreak.
- Reuters / BBC