Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., will "assess" his presidential campaign after losing 19 of the last 24 primaries to former Vice President Joe Biden, his top aide said Wednesday.
Despite sources close to Sanders insisting that they did not foresee the senator ending his campaign anytime soon prior to Tuesday's elections, Biden's big wins in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona appear to have prompted Sanders to do some soul-searching.
"The next primary contest is at least three weeks away. Sen. Sanders is going to be having conversations with supporters to assess his campaign," campaign manager Faiz Shakir said in a statement. "In the immediate term, however, he is focused on the government response to the coronavirus outbreak and ensuring that we take care of working people and the most vulnerable."
The statement comes as Sanders has fallen well behind Biden in the delegate count. Biden currently has 1,132 pledged delegates to 817 for Sanders, according to NBC News.
Shortly after Shakir's statement, many journalists on Twitter circulated an Axios report alongside erroneously claims that the campaign had been suspended. That appears to have been a misreading of the actual report, which was headlined, "Bernie Sanders suspends his 2020 campaign Facebook ads."
"A pause in digital advertising spend on Facebook has been a good indicator that candidates are dropping out of the 2020 race before," Axios reported. "Pete Buttigieg and Michael Bloomberg made their Facebook ads inactive hours before they suspended their campaigns."
The Democratic Party has increasingly rallied behind Biden after he won the South Carolina primary, 10 of the 14 states that voted on Super Tuesday and five of the six states that voted last week. Sanders won the popular vote in the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. But he has struggled to turn out his young supporters while the moderates in the race cleared the field for Biden to surge among older and black voters.
Sanders' advisers told Politico prior to Tuesday's primaries that the senator was likely to stay in the race to affect the Democratic platform at the national convention and to continue his "political revolution."
But the new coronavirus has upended the race and forced both candidates off the campaign trail. Ohio and several other states postponed their upcoming primaries, leaving little ability for Sanders to make up ground over the next six weeks even if he could turn his campaign around. Election forecaster FiveThirtyEight projects that Biden has a 99% chance to clinch the nomination.
Sanders did not mention the primaries at all when he spoke via livestream Tuesday, instead calling for $2,000 monthly payments to every American until the end of the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden used his livestreamed speech to offer a message of unity to Sanders' supporters.
"Let me say, especially to the young voters who have been inspired by Senator Sanders: I hear you. I know what's at stake. I know what we have to do," he said. "Our goal as a campaign and my goal as a candidate for president is to unify this party and then to unify the nation."
Despite Sanders' repeated losses over the last three weeks, voters in 23 consecutive states overwhelmingly said they back his proposal to replace private insurance with a government-run health care system. Sanders said last week that the trend showed he "won the ideological debate" but was "losing the debate over electability."
But Biden's supporters ramped up pressure on him to exit the race in light of the global health crisis.
"I think the conversation is going to quickly turn to how and when does Bernie Sanders unite the Democratic Party," former Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said on MSNBC. "I do think the pressure is going to mount, especially at this time of crisis in this country, for the Democrats to unite behind clearly the voters' preference."
"No Dem has ever come back from anything like this deficit," agreed former Obama strategist David Axelrod. "The race for the nomination is over."