AILSA CHANG, HOST:
For weeks, the presidential campaigns continued, even as concerns about the coronavirus continued to build. But today, as voters in six states cast their ballots, the top Democratic candidates have canceled scheduled rallies. Both former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders were planning rallies this evening in Ohio, but both events were canceled, given concerns for public health and guidance from health officials. Our reporters are tracking these developments and today's nominating contests. Joining me from Ohio is NPR's Asma Khalid.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi there.
CHANG: And on the line from Michigan is NPR's Don Gonyea.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hey. Greetings.
CHANG: All right. Asma, I want to start with you. What are the campaigns saying about this decision to cancel these events?
KHALID: Well, it was a pretty last-minute decision. Part of why I am myself here in Ohio, where no candidates are anymore...
KHALID: ...Is because they were planning to be here. And we got word just about an hour or two ago, both from the Sanders campaign and the Biden campaign, that essentially out of a concern for public health and safety, they decided to cancel tonight's rallies in Cleveland. Both of them were planning to be in Cleveland. They say that they're heeding the public warnings from Ohio state officials, you know, who have communicated some concern about holding large indoor events during the coronavirus outbreak.
And you know, at this point, Biden is going to be addressing journalists later tonight in Philadelphia. I believe that my colleague Scott Detrow said that Bernie Sanders is headed back to Vermont. But neither one will be in states that are voting today, nor states that are going to be voting next week.
CHANG: Do you have any sense of what the plan is going forward? I mean, there's a lot of election year left. There are a lot of rallies that are going to be planned.
KHALID: So both campaigns told us that - moving forward that their events will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. We were told that the Biden campaign has been consulting with public health officials, and we just don't have a clear sense of what that means yet.
CHANG: OK. Don, let's talk about what's happening in Michigan today. Remind us why this state in particular is the focus of so much attention.
GONYEA: Well, this day is ultimately about amassing delegates, so let's start there. Michigan has 125 delegates that will be awarded today. That is the most among the six states that have contests today. Senator Sanders won the Michigan primary four years ago. In 2016, he beat Hillary Clinton. It was an upset, and it was a signature win for his first presidential run and gave him staying power for what was ultimately an unsuccessful run for the nomination. Now this year, 2020, he is trailing Joe Biden in delegates, so he needs another signature win. And let's not forget the larger symbolism of such a big Midwestern battleground like Michigan...
GONYEA: ...Both now and in November. Again, Democrats lost it in the general election to Trump four years ago - first time a Republican carried the state since 1988. So Democrats were kind of shell-shocked and not ready for that. They see today and this entire campaign now and in November as a chance to regain their footing. And really, it is a state that they feel like they need if they are going to stop President Trump's reelection bid.
CHANG: And Asma, I mean, Don laid down some of the groundwork there. But how would you additionally characterize what is at stake for both campaigns tonight?
KHALID: Well, let's start with Biden. You know, he seems to have a comfortable lead there in Michigan in some of the recent polls. His campaign is hoping to expand that delegate lead and really sort of clinch his status as the front-runner in this race. In terms of Bernie Sanders, you know, he essentially needs to chip away at that. He needs to change and counter the momentum.
And to me, one of the most interesting things I'll be looking for is the degree to which Sanders can chip away at the strength that it seems Joe Biden has with African American voters. We'll get a glimpse of that in some of the states voting today. Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri all have pretty sizable African American voters in that Democratic primary. But I think this is something that we're going to need to pay attention to even looking to states that are going to vote next week. It has been a challenge for Sanders, and it remains unclear if he can really turn this - turn sort of his trajectory around if he's not able to do better with African American voters.
CHANG: OK. And then just looking beyond this evening, Don, what other states are you going to be looking at?
GONYEA: We're bouncing all over the map.
GONYEA: You know, we've got Washington, Missouri, Mississippi, Idaho and North Dakota today. Next week, we've got Ohio, and we've got Florida coming up. So it doesn't stop after today.
CHANG: All right. That's NPR's Don Gonyea and Asma Khalid. Thanks to both of you.
GONYEA: Thank you.
KHALID: You're welcome.
CHANG: NPR will have live Special Coverage of this election night starting at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, and you can follow all the results at npr.org as they come. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.