Former Vice President Joe Biden extended his lead over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders Tuesday in the delegate count as the candidates look ahead to four large states that vote next.
Sanders announced in a Wednesday news conference that he is staying in the race.
Biden currently has 847 delegates half-way through the primary voting season in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, compared to 685 for Sanders. The eventual nominee will need 1,991 to win at the Democratic National Convention this July in Milwaukee.
Biden scored decisive victories Tuesday in Michigan, Mississippi and Missouri and also won a closely contested primary in Idaho. Sanders won the North Dakota Democratic caucuses, but the vote totals were so close that Sanders only won two more delegates than Biden, 8-6.
Votes were still being counted in the state of Washington, where the race remains too close to call.
There will be 577 delegates up for grabs on March 17 as voters in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio head to the polls. That makes the St. Patrick’s Day primaries the third-largest voting day behind Super Tuesday with 1,334 delegates, and April 28, when 663 delegates will be awarded.
Biden and Sanders are scheduled to debate Sunday in Phoenix.
As of March 10, Biden held a 52 percent to 33 percent lead over Sanders in an average of all national polls to date, according to FiveThirtyEight.com. As recently as a week ago, Biden’s lead was just 36 percent to 28 percent.
Biden has similar – if not larger – leads in the four states that will vote Tuesday.
In Arizona, which at 67 delegates is the smallest of the four states, Biden has an average of 51 percent support to 32 percent for Sanders.
Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who survived a shooting in January 2011, endorsed Biden Wednesday morning.
“Joe Biden leads with his heart,” she said in a statement. “He has the compassion and toughness to lead on gun safety. I’ve witnessed him comfort the survivors of gun violence, and I’ve seen him fight for solutions to gun violence and win.”
A heated exchange over gun rights between Biden and an auto plant worker in Detroit Monday quickly went viral. The man told Biden he was “actively trying to take away our Second Amendment rights and take away our guns.” Biden responded the man was “full of s—,” saying he supports the Second Amendment and owns hunting rifles before telling the man not to be “a horse’s a–.”
Biden’s largest lead in states voting Tuesday is Florida, with 127 delegates, with a polling average of 59 percent compared to 23 percent for Sanders.
Polling in Illinois, with 155 delegates, puts Biden at 53 percent and Sanders at 32 percent, similar to Ohio, with 156 delegates, where Biden has averaged 54 percent and Sanders 36 percent.