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With Bernie Sanders out, Joe Biden prepares ground to lead Democratic presidential charge

Former vice president is the presumptive candidate after last remaining withdrew from contention

Democratic US presidential contender Bernie Sanders announces that he is suspending his campaign in a livestream broadcast from his home in Burlington, Vermont, on April 8, 2020. via Reuters
Democratic US presidential contender Bernie Sanders announces that he is suspending his campaign in a livestream broadcast from his home in Burlington, Vermont, on April 8, 2020. via Reuters

The exit of progressive candidate Bernie Sanders from the US presidential race on Wednesday brought a sigh of relief to former vice president Joe Biden's campaign as he cruises to claiming the Democratic nomination to face Donald Trump in the fall.

Unlike 2016, when Mr Sanders stayed in the race until the Democratic convention in July, drawing criticism of delaying party unity and inadvertently leading to the loss of Hillary Clinton that year, 2020 at least on the surface appears to be different.

Announcing his decision, Mr Sanders explained it was mathematically impossible to catch up with Mr Biden, who leads by more than 300 delegates out of 1,991 needed to win. But Ms Clinton was also leading with a similar margin in 2016 when Mr Sanders decided to stay in the race. This time, the urge to unite the party, galvanise the base against Mr Trump and reclaim the White House on November 3 appear to have changed the Democratic calculus.

Mr Biden and Mr Sanders were touting their family friendship by Wednesday night, and while the leftist senator shied away from an outright endorsement, he heaped praise on the former vice president. Calling him a decent man, Mr Sanders went on late night television to acknowledge that conversations were being held between their camps regarding an endorsement and the convention platform.

"I hope to be able to work with Joe to move him in a more progressive direction," Mr Sanders said.

He will be staying on the ballots in the states left to vote in the Democratic primaries to be able to exert leverage on the party in drawing up its platform. Mr Sanders mentioned climate change, free college and the minimum wage as critical issues he wants Mr Biden to support.

The former vice president, who has framed his campaign around the image of a consensus builder, is stressing the need to unify. He is reaching out to Mr Sander's supporters and has already enlisted some of the progressive policies that Senator Elizabeth Warren has drawn up on bankruptcy plans. Ms Warren, who dropped out of the running for the Democratic nomination last month, has not endorsed Mr Biden yet but has commended Mr Sanders for withdrawing from the race.

Another milestone that will determine the Biden campaign's direction and his effort to unify the party will be his pick for vice president. Mr Biden has made it clear that he wants a woman for the post. His shortlist includes nine possibles running mates, with senators Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar seen as top contenders. Ms Harris created a stir on Thursday after signing on to a fundraising deal with the Democratic National Committee, a move reserved for nominees.

But Mr Biden could also opt for someone who can help him win a state, such as Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer or the former gubernatorial candidate in Georgia, Stacey Abrams. Winning either state would be a boost for his chances of defeating the incumbent president.

Elizabeth Warren is another wild card in the vice presidential contenders, and she was considered for the post when Mr Biden flirted with a presidential bid in 2016. Her progressive background and friendship with Mr Sanders could help unify the party.

Recent polls show Mr Biden leading Mr Trump nationally but reflect a deeply polarized electorate, and a tight race that will likely be decided in the midwestern states of Michigan and Wisconsin.

Updated: April 9, 2020 09:19 PM

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