BURLINGTON, Vt. – Bernie Sanders acknowledged Friday that fears about the spread of coronavirus have damaged his ability to leverage large rallies into support at the polls, and suggested that future Democratic presidential primary voting should be delayed if health officials deem doing so appropriate.
“We do more rallies than anybody else, and (they're) often very well attended. I love to do them," the senator told reporters at a hotel in his home state of Vermont. “This coronavirus has obviously impacted our ability to communicate with people in the traditional way that we do. That's hurting.”
Thousands of people gathering to hear him speak has defined Sanders since he first sought the White House in 2016. But the practice has been curtailed as health officials attempt to slow the virus' spread. Instead, Sanders has convened the media three straight days to blast the Trump administration for what he calls its inadequate response and warn of dire upcoming health and economic effects.
“If this isn't a red flag for the current dysfunctional and wasteful health care system, frankly I don't know what is,” Sanders said, advocating for his signature “Medicare for All” plan that would provide, universal, government-funded health care.
Despite conceding that he's badly trailing Joe Biden in amassing the number of delegates needed to secure their party's presidential nomination, Sanders has given no indication he'll drop out of the presidential race. He's vowed to grill the former vice president on issues like expanding health coverage, combating climate change, reducing college debt and overhauling a biased criminal justice system during a debate Sunday night.
In the meantime, though, the race could be shifting around both candidates. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards was planning to delay his state's April 4 primary until June 20.
Even though the four states set to vote in the next round of primaries on Tuesday — Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio — all said they have no plans for postponement, Sanders was asked about more disruptions and didn't dismiss the idea.
He called elections “the bedrock of our democracy” and said they shouldn't be delayed “on a wily-nilly basis.” But he also noted that everything from the NBA season to Broadway musicals had been disrupted to avoid large crowds coming together, adding, “I don't think there's anybody out there, no matter what your political view may be, who wants to see people become infected because they are voting.”
“Rescheduling elections is not something we do lightly or should do lightly,” Sanders said, adding that state health and elected officials would have to balance that with the fact that it's “also important to make sure that everybody who wants to vote has the right to vote, and that may not be the case now.”
Biden, who has also canceled scheduled events amid the coronavirus outbreak, is holding a virtual town hall via Facebook on Friday. Sanders said, in lieu of rallies, he plans to communicate with supporters via social media and internet livestream, like he did when addressing reporters Friday.
“We are figuring out a way as to how we can best communicate with people," Sanders said “which will certainly, in a very strong way, utilize our social media capabilities.”
Eds: Weissert reported from Washington.