Democratic Debate:
Biden Vs. Sanders

Live Analysis And Fact Check

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Former Vice President Joe Biden made big news, committing to have a woman as his running mate. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said it would be his “strong tendency.”

Biden and Sanders started Sunday night’s debate with an elbow bump and responded to the coronavirus crisis. They got into detailed arguments over their records on a range of issues, from bankruptcy to immigration. Read the highlights below.

For a recap of the night and what it means, subscribe to The NPR Politics Podcast.

The 11th Democratic Debate Is Over. What’s Next?

With no future primary debates on the books, former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders push forward with several crucial contests coming their way.

The next primary voting day is Tuesday, when voters from Florida, Ohio, Illinois and Arizona will cast their ballots.

Biden, already ahead in delegates, is polling highly in all four states — making Sanders’ much-needed wins potentially difficult.

There are 577 delegates at stake, and although neither Biden nor Sanders can end Tuesday night with enough delegates to take the nomination, a strong Biden showing could seriously hurt Sanders’ chances.

NPR will be providing live special coverage Tuesday night as polls close and results begin coming in — along with daylong digital coverage on our live blog at

Refer to NPR’s 2020 Election Calendar for information on every upcoming presidential primary and caucus as well as our previous coverage on all the contests that have happened so far. The calendar also includes information on the U.S. Senate, House and gubernatorial races.

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Ending Where We Started, With Coronavirus

A sense of symmetry here. After many minutes of not mentioning the epidemic, the debate circled back to the coronavirus as the closing topic.

Bernie Sanders emphasized the need to move “aggressively” (he said it three times) and to reassure the public that the testing, health care, medical personnel and equipment that’s needed is available (although it’s not totally clear that it is). He also pivoted away from the virus to talk more broadly about issues of economic inequality, greed and corruption.

Joe Biden’s message was more emotional and a bit wandering. He mentioned the need to “listen to the science again," the need to address the economic impact on people. He also seemed to be considering — in real time — the logistical details of social distancing, saying, “What can stay open and what need be closed?” He finally went back to President Trump, saying he exacerbated this crisis and the larger issues of economic inequality — and tried to convince voters that he would be the better president to respond to this crisis.

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Sanders Says Biden Pushed For Social Security Cuts On Senate Floor

Sen. Bernie Sanders argued that when Joe Biden was a senator, he argued for significant cuts to Social Security on the Senate floor. Sanders urged viewers to go to YouTube to see Biden’s speech, but Biden flatly denied that he was pushing for cuts.

Sanders was likely referring to a 1995 speech on the Senate floor when Biden was pushing for a balanced budget amendment.

“When I argued that we should freeze federal spending, I meant Social Security as well. I meant Medicare and Medicaid. I meant veterans benefits. I meant every single solitary thing in the government. And I not only tried it once, I tried it twice. I tried it a third time, and I tried it a fourth time,” Biden said at the time.

Biden has over time argued that in various proposals to address the budget deficit, Congress should consider some cuts and reforms to entitlement programs. The Washington Post examined the Sanders’ claims about Biden’s record on Social Security. Its analysis notes that while Biden has supported cutbacks — as many Democrats did at various points in proposals to tackle the ballooning deficit — he has also pushed to increase benefits and worked to eliminate proposals by Republicans to significantly alter the program.

Biden also argued that any argument that he backed proposals pushed by former GOP Rep Paul Ryan, who proposed broad changes to entitlements, was not true.

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Sanders Acknowledges Youth Turnout Could Be Stronger

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders acknowledged that young voters could be turning out in higher numbers for him.

That demographic has been a core section of Sanders’ base, both throughout his 2020 and 2016 campaigns. But after Super Tuesday, Sanders admitted that he had anticipated young people would be supporting him in larger numbers.

On Super Tuesday, according to NPR’s Juana Summers, 16% of voters were under 30 in Texas — a state that Sanders was expected to do well in but that former Vice President Joe Biden won. In Sanders’ home state of Vermont, 11% of voters were under 30.

Read more about Sanders’ lower-than-expected youth turnout here.

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Biden Puts Sanders On Defensive Over Cuba Comments

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was again put on the defensive over his comments praising a literacy effort by Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

Sanders was firm that he has opposed authoritarianism all over the world, including by putative U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia, and added that former President Barack Obama also commended certain aspects of Cuban policy.

Sanders then expanded on his point with a comparable statement about China: It’s understandable to both call it an authoritarian regime and also say that its people have benefited by a decline in extreme poverty there.

But former Vice President Joe Biden pressed Sanders, saying, “Words matter. These are flat-out dictators.”

The tables were turned when the moderators shifted to the Iraq War, which Biden voted for and has since apologized for, saying he shouldn’t have trusted then-President George W. Bush.

Sanders voted against war authorization and has put Biden on the defensive over the vote countless times throughout the nominating contest.

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Biden Says He’s The Candidate Who Can Bring Out Democrats

Former Vice President Joe Biden has been working to make up ground among Latino voters, who have been a mainstay of support for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. But when asked during the debate by CNN’s Dana Bash why he did not have as much support from Latinos as Sanders does, Biden did not have a specific answer.

Instead Biden argued that his message has been "resonating across the board" and is responsible for significant turnout in a number of states. He also made the case for why he thinks he is drawing broader support than Sanders, who is an independent, saying that the voters that make up the Democratic Party’s base "know I’m a Democrat with a capital D."

While Sanders has had stronger support among Latino voters, Biden has gotten overwhelming support from black voters. Looking ahead to the next round of primaries, which include Florida and Arizona, those demographic strengths could be key for both candidates.

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Biden: After Moratorium, Only Felons Would Be Deported

Former Vice President Joe Biden last month conceded that it was a “big mistake” for the Obama administration to have deported so many immigrants without criminal records before ultimately changing course.

Biden tonight reiterated stances that show how he has evolved on various immigration issues. He talked about a proposed 100-day moratorium on all deportations to begin his term as president and added that after that period, only immigrants who committed a felony in this country would be subject to deportation in a Biden administration.

He also said that he supports so-called “sanctuary cities,” which are localities where police don’t cooperate with most federal immigration matters. That’s a reversal from his stance when he was running for president in 2007.

The changes in Biden’s views have brought him more in line with the policies of his sparring partner on stage, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sanders’ immigration stances have, in part, helped him win over some Latino voters, and he has won the biggest share of Latino voters this nominating contest, powering him to victories in California and Nevada.

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Biden Commits To Choosing A Woman As VP

Former Vice President Joe Biden said that if he got the Democratic nomination, he would commit to choosing a woman as his running mate.

"There are a number of women who are qualified to be president tomorrow,” he said. “I would pick a woman to be my vice president.”

His answer was in response to a question about how the candidates’ cabinets would promote women’s interests.

Sen. Bernie Sanders did not quite make the same commitment about a potential running mate. Moderator Dana Bash pressed him on whether he would choose a woman.

“In all likelihood, I will,” he said. “For me, it’s not just nominating a woman. It is making sure we have a progressive woman, and there are progressive women out there. So my very strong tendency is to move in that direction.”

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Fact check

Sanders Is Not Supported By 9 SuperPACs

In a tense back-and-forth between the two candidates, former Vice President Joe Biden accused Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders of being supported by nine superPACs — a claim that Sanders quickly denied.

SuperPACs are political groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money unconstrained by the contribution limits that apply to candidates’ political campaigns. But superPACs are expected to remain independent of the campaigns and are not allowed to coordinate their spending with candidates.

According to Open Secrets, which collects data from the Federal Election Commission, both Biden and Sanders each benefit from a single superPAC.

Vote Nurses Values, a superPAC that represents nurses, has given its support to Sanders and spent close to $754,000 in independent expenditures.

Three additional superPACs are listed on Open Secrets as supporting Sanders and have raised money. But none have spent funds explicitly on Sanders’ behalf.

Sanders criticized Biden for the support he has gotten from the superPAC, Unite the Country, which has backed the former vice president since the fall of 2019. According to Open Secrets, that group has spent over $10 million to support Biden.

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Biden’s Message For Sanders Supporters

Former Vice President Joe Biden sought to make a bridge to supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign Sunday night. Asked how he would win over Sanders’ supporters, Biden at first said that Sanders was making it difficult for him during the debate, as he had been "trying to give him credit for things and he won’t even take the credit!”

“If Bernie is the nominee, I will not only support him, I will campaign for him. And I believe the people who support me will do the same thing because the existential threat to the United States of America is Donald Trump,” Biden said.

The response is yet another example of how Biden has been emphasizing the need to defeat Trump and to unite behind the eventual Democratic nominee.

Sanders also made clear that if Biden is the nominee, he would support him.

For his part, Sanders said that he obviously hopes to win the nomination, but that if he doesn’t, he and all of the other Democrats who sought the presidency are prepared "to come together and do everything humanly possible to defeat Donald Trump."

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Sanders And Biden Clash On Bailouts

Moderator Ilia Calderón asked Sen. Bernie Sanders about the bailouts Congress passed at the start of the financial crisis to stabilize the banking system. Sanders defended that vote, arguing that taxpayers should have supported what he described as illegal and irresponsible behavior by banks. Former Vice President Joe Biden responded by saying that the bailouts were necessary to prevent a depression and he accused Sanders of voting against the bailouts of automobile companies.

This dispute over the auto bailouts came up in 2016 also, when Hillary Clinton accused Sanders of being against that package. At the time, found that Clinton “stretched the facts” in saying that.

Sanders did vote against the bill that created the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which bought toxic assets off of big banks.

And $80 billion in TARP funds did end up being used on auto bailouts. But Sanders had voted to provide other money to the auto manufacturers, as FactCheck pointed out.

Many Americans were, like Sanders, opposed to the bank bailouts in 2008 — polling was split, but disfavor grew as 2008 went on. At the time, many were outraged that banks were getting government bailouts after they made risky investments.

That said, that’s different from whether the bailouts worked. A survey of economists in 2012 found that they almost unanimously agreed that the bailouts caused unemployment to be lower at the end of 2010 (when it was still above 9 percent) than it would have been without TARP.

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Biden Pans Sanders Revolution, Saying People Want Action Now

Former Vice President Joe Biden pushed back at Sen. Bernie Sanders’ aggressive push for a political revolution to remake the country’s health care system.

“If we want a revolution, let’s act now,” Biden said. He insisted that Americans wanted changes to the current Obamacare system, restoring cuts to the program and expanding access. He pointed out that Sanders’ proposals could take four years to put into place.

“We can do that now — I can get that passed. I can get that done as president of the United States,” Biden said.

Sanders restated that his push for broad changes was essential because of the massive disparity between the wealthiest Americans and the working class and that it was imperative to push for the policy that has become a central plank of his platform — “Medicare for All.”

Sanders said the difference comes down to the “power structure” and suggested Biden shouldn’t be taking contributions from Wall Street.

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Sanders, Biden Clash Over Campaign Finance, SuperPACs

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders clashed over campaign finance issues, with Sanders opening the round by criticizing Biden for taking contributions from people in the fossil fuel and health insurance industries, among others.

Biden retorted by asking Sanders to join him in pushing for federally funded elections, something he says he first proposed three decades ago.

Biden touted his small-dollar donations, adding he hasn’t gotten any single contribution over $2,800, which is the federal limit for any one individual’s gift per election cycle. (Sanders has long led Democratic candidates in fundraising from small-dollar donors.)

The two then clashed over superPACs, which can raise and spend much more money on behalf of a candidate and must operate independently of the candidate’s campaign.

Sanders asked Biden to condemn the superPAC that’s supporting the former vice president and, Sanders says, running attack ads against him. Biden said the same of the nine superPACs he said that support Sanders. Sanders denied there are nine superPACs backing his campaign.

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Coronavirus And Immigration

Both candidates were asked by Univision anchor Ilia Calderón how they would ensure that immigrants would feel safe enough to seek treatment for COVID-19.

Former Vice President Joe Biden said he would make sure no one faces deportation for seeking care, “period.” Sen. Bernie Sanders pointed out that under “Medicare for All,” undocumented people are covered and that it’s important “to make sure that everybody feels comfortable getting the health care that they need — that should be a general principle, above and beyond the coronavirus.”

The issue of how undocumented immigrants will cope during the coronavirus crisis is potentially a major one. There’s already evidence that the Trump administration’s “public charge” rule that connects people’s use of safety net programs with their prospects for legally immigrating is affecting the use of medical services — even for services and populations that fall outside the reach of the rule.

The success of the American effort to keep ahead of the spread of coronavirus will depend on public trust. There is such deep distrust already — and fear — among the estimated 11 million people in the country who are undocumented. Whether we create a system to treat people with COVID-19 that is easy to access — and that people have trust they can access safely — could have a major impact on how we fare as a country.

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Biden Defends Support For 2005 Bankruptcy Bill But Wants To Repeal It

Moderator Ilia Calderón asked former Vice President Joe Biden about why he, this week, decided to get behind an Elizabeth Warren-backed plan to repeal a bankruptcy bill that she and Biden clashed over when it passed in 2005.

As I wrote last year, the bill responded to a rise in bankruptcies and instituted a number of changes to bankruptcy law:

“The 2005 bill restricted who could discharge their debts via Chapter 7 bankruptcy and also made the process more difficult. It included a means test, in the form of comparing a person’s income with their state’s median income. The goal, proponents argued, was to make sure that people who could still pay their debts weren’t able to unfairly escape their debts, while also ensuring that people who couldn’t pay were able to get relief.

“The bill also said that a person had to go through credit counseling before obtaining bankruptcy.”

Warren — then a Harvard professor — and Biden had clashed over the law for years. She and some congressional Democrats thought the bill would enrich credit card companies (some of which were based in Biden’s home state of Delaware) and hurt consumers. Warren particularly worried that it would hurt women.

At Sunday night’s debate, Biden defended his support for that bill, saying it would have been worse for consumers had he not been involved.

The fact that Biden now backs this plan is seen as an olive branch to progressives who once backed Warren’s presidential bid or who currently back Sen. Bernie Sanders. In addition to making filing for bankruptcy easier, repealing the bill would also allow people to discharge their student loans via bankruptcy — something that is very difficult to do right now.

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How The Candidates (And Campaigns) Are Responding to Coronavirus

Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden were each asked what steps they were taking as the coronavirus has upended the presidential campaign. The virus has prompted both men to ask their staff to work from home. Their campaigns have also canceled in-person rallies and town halls alike. Instead, both Biden and Sanders are turning to virtual events.

When the two men started the debate, there was no traditional handshake, they bumped elbows instead.

For his part, Sanders said he’s using a lot of soap and hand sanitizer. Biden said he washes his hands "God knows how many times a day with hot water and soap," and avoids touching his face.

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Biden Looking Past Sanders

There has never been a debate like this. It was moved into a TV studio, as the country has essentially ground to a halt because of the novel coronavirus. But there’s still politics at play and a primary to win. After all, four big states, including Florida and Ohio, vote Tuesday.

But during this debate, instead of trying to draw contrasts, former Vice President Joe Biden seems to be looking past his immediate opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sanders promoted his “Medicare For All” plan as a bigger-picture point in responding not just to coronavirus but also to the broader holes in the health insurance industry.

Biden dismissed that, saying a single-payer system didn’t work in Italy to prevent the spread of that coronavirus. Biden instead wanted to talk about how to deal with the national emergency.

Sanders attacked Biden for aspects of the health care industry funding Biden’s campaign. Biden reacted quickly and shot a look at Sanders, but Biden declined to shoot back. Instead, Biden, who has about a 154-delegate lead, said, he’s “not going to get into the back-and-forth about our politics.”

Overall, Biden is trying to look like a leader in a crisis. Sanders brought it back to his platform and the larger ills of American society, as he sees it.

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Biden: ‘I Would Call Out The Military – Now’

Responding to a moderator’s question, former Vice President Joe Biden was unequivocal that he “would call out the military — now” to assist in the coronavirus response, were he president.

“They have the capacity to provide this surge help that hospitals need,” he said, then cited how the military assisted with the response to the Ebola crisis when he was vice president in the Obama administration.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders didn’t engage as directly with the question, saying: “I think we use all of the tools that make sense.” He said if that includes calling up the National Guard, then yes, it’s a good option. Sanders then pivoted to more familiar terrain for him: how he would help workers affected by what is expected to be an economic downturn.

Just Sunday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on President Trump to “task the Army Corps of Engineers to expand hospital capacity.”

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Sanders Connects Coronavirus To ‘Medicare For All’

Sen. Bernie Sanders connected coronavirus to his signature “Medicare for All” plan several times over the past week, and he did again Sunday night. He said that as president, he would want to be able to say, “People of America, do not worry about the cost of prescription drugs, do not worry about the cost of the health care you’re going to get.”

Sanders’ proposed single-payer system would offer government-administered insurance to all Americans. He has multiple times over the past week connected coronavirus to his hope that the U.S. could pass single-payer health care, arguing that everyone needs to be insured to keep everyone healthy.

Former Vice President Joe Biden pointed out that deaths are on the rise in Italy, which has its own form of single-payer health care.

“With all due respect to Medicare for All, you have a single-payer system in Italy. It doesn’t work there,” Biden said. Biden supports a health care overhaul in the form of a public option. He also argued that during the coronavirus outbreak, health care should be made available to all even without a Medicare for All system.

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Coronavirus, Right Off The Bat

Not surprising that we’re starting with addressing the coronavirus pandemic — it’s hard to think about anything else right now. Former Vice President Joe Biden’s first response ticked through ideas that he outlined last week in his coronavirus speech; Sen. Bernie Sanders zeroed in on the need for people to not worry about payment for testing and treatment.

There have been a range of efforts to anticipate and assuage the financial concerns of the many millions of underinsured and uninsured people across the country who might get sick with COVID-19. But the system is so fragmented that it’s confusing whether the promises from the federal government and private insurers will be enough. When cases surge — as they’re expected to in the coming days — we’ll start to see whether it’s enough.

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Change In Moderators

Sunday night’s debate features a change in moderators. Initially, Jorge Ramos of Univision was set to serve alongside CNN anchors Dana Bash and Jake Tapper. But Ramos relinquished his spot as a precaution after he said he had possibly been exposed to the coronavirus, Univision said late last week.

In a statement, the Democratic National Committee said that both Ramos and the person he was in contact with are in good health and symptom-free and that Ramos had been cleared by medical professionals. He stepped aside out of an abundance of caution. Univision anchor Ilia Calderón is moderating the debate in Ramos’s place.

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An Elbow Bump And Social Distancing: Debate Reflects New Guidelines

The Democratic presidential debate between Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden began with an elbow bump instead of the traditional handshake.

Before the two candidates greeted each other they walked out to lecterns set 6 feet apart, which reflected guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for “social distancing.”

Sunday night’s CNN-Univision debate moved from a debate hall in Arizona with a live audience to a television studio in CNN’s Washington bureau. In a sign of the new practices that news organizations were putting into place, the CNN moderators and panelists also sat farther apart.

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Campaigns Have Gone Digital

As the coronavirus pandemic continues throughout the country, both former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have switched to making online appearances rather than in-person ones over the past week.

With four key states voting on Tuesday — Florida, Ohio, Arizona and Illinois — both campaigns have held “virtual” events to maintain momentum without fueling public health concerns.

Biden held a “virtual town hall” last Friday instead of campaigning in Chicago. He is also scheduled to do a virtual event on Monday to replace a previously planned visit to Miami.

Sanders also called off scheduled visits and held a “fireside chat” where he took questions from supporters.

Livestreaming events is not a new strategy for the Sanders campaign as it has been posting live videos of the events throughout Sanders’ 2020 run.

NPR’s Scott Detrow reports that the campaign’s videos have gotten a total of 85 million views since Sanders began the campaign.

Read more about the campaign’s Internet production process here.

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What Bernie Sanders Wants To Ask Joe Biden

Last week, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders previewed his strategy for Sunday night’s debate. In a speech on Wednesday, he announced he would stay in the race and show up at the debate and then listed a series of questions he planned to ask “my friend Joe Biden” on a wide range of issues.

One of the issues that could take on new importance as the country grapples with the response to the coronavirus is health care. Health care is, of course, a signature issue for Sanders.

“Joe, what are you going to do to end the absurdity of the United States of America being the only major country on earth where health care is not a human right?” Sanders said in his speech. “Are you really going to veto a ‘Medicare for All’ bill, if it is passed in Congress?”

Sanders indicated that he would challenge Biden on a bevy of issues, including on medical debt, climate change, mass incarceration and childhood poverty.

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Sanders Spending More On Ads Despite Biden Lead

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is outspending former Vice President Joe Biden in ads, despite Sanders’ path to the nomination growing steep.

Nationwide, Sanders has spent more than twice as much on ads than Biden — $70 million to $32 million — according to data provided from Advertising Analytics through March 13.

Sanders is also spending more than Biden on ads in each state in play on March 17 — totaling $12 million compared with Biden at $9.6 million.

Biden’s spending also includes the superPAC, Unite the Country, which has spent $8.9 million nationwide on pro-Biden advertisements, including half a million in Arizona alone.

Sanders is not currently benefiting from any superPAC ad spending for the upcoming March 17 elections.

Despite lower spending numbers, Biden leads against Sanders in delegates after a strong set of wins on Super Tuesday and last week’s March 10 primary elections.

Polls also show that the former vice president is favored to win in all four states on March 17, including Florida, which has 219 delegates at play.

Here’s a breakdown of Sanders and Biden’s ad spending in the four states voting on Tuesday:

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Debating Amid A Crisis

The Democratic presidential primary has changed dramatically since the last debate.

There were seven candidates onstage on Feb. 25. This time, there will be just two: former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Sanders occupied the center spot in that last debate, reflecting his front-runner status at the time. Now, it’s Biden who has a delegate lead and the clear inside track to the nomination.

But more so than the winnowed field, the primary has been upended by the coronavirus.

Biden and Sanders have canceled their rallies for the foreseeable future, opting instead for speeches on the pandemic and for virtual events. And Sunday night’s debate will take place in Washington, D.C., without a studio audience. The lecterns will even be 6 feet apart.

The debate was originally slated to be held in Arizona, one of four states voting Tuesday. The four — Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio — released a joint statement last week saying they’re going ahead with their primaries as planned, despite the virus.

The pandemic is sure to be the prime topic Sunday night, as both the Democratic candidates have outlined proposals and have slammed the Trump administration’s response to the outbreak.

Another likely topic: Sanders himself has acknowledged his new second-place position in the nominating contest, and even tipped off the former vice president to some of the questions he planned to ask during the debate. It is as if Sanders is attempting to influence policy, while offering Biden a path to winning over the progressive senator’s coalition.

Biden seems to be paying attention: On Sunday, he announced he’s adopting Sanders’ proposal to make public colleges tuition-free for all students whose family incomes are below $125,000. He also adopted a bankruptcy proposal of former presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s.

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