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US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, surging in the polls and with several weighty endorsements in his pocket, and rival Bernie Sanders hit the campaign trail in Michigan on Monday on the eve of a primary vote in the key battleground state.
Joe Biden was projected to cruise to wins in Democratic presidential contests in Missouri and Mississippi on Tuesday, striking an early blow against rival Bernie Sanders on a day when six states made their choices in the race to challenge U.S. President Donald Trump.
Biden, the former vice president under Barack Obama and a heavy favorite over Sanders in both states, was projected to win Mississippi and Missouri by Edison Research and television networks based on exit polls and early results.
The projections came as polls closed in the two states, along with North Dakota.
Biden, 77, was looking to take a big step toward the nomination to face the Republican Trump in the Nov. 3 election after becoming the front-runner with a series of sweeping wins over Sanders in last week's Super Tuesday contests.
With Michigan the day's biggest prize, Sanders, a democratic socialist and U.S. senator from Vermont, hoped an upset win there would keep his dwindling White House hopes alive. Sanders, 78, won a stunning upset over Hillary Clinton in Michigan in 2016 that ensured a long nominating fight – something Biden hopes to avoid this time.
A total of 352 of the nearly 4,000 delegates to July's Democratic convention were up for grabs in the six states voting on Tuesday, with Michigan the biggest with 125 delegates.
A Biden breakthrough in Michigan, along with his big victories in Missouri and Mississippi, could prove too much for Sanders to overcome. By the end of March, about two-thirds of the delegates will be allocated.
With 8% of the precincts reporting in Michigan, Biden was ahead with 52% versus 44% for Sanders.
Biden was powered to the early victories on Tuesday by strong support from a broad coalition of groups, including women, African Americans, those aged 45 and older, and all but the very liberal, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research.
As in earlier states, Biden's support was especially strong among black voters. In Mississippi, where two-thirds of the electorate was African-American, Biden won more than eight of every 10 black voters.
Washington and Idaho also held contests on Tuesday. There was no immediate projection for North Dakota, and polls close later in the three other states.
As fears spread about the coronavirus, voters in Michigan said they trusted Biden more than Sanders to handle a major crisis, according to exit polls.
The polling in Michigan showed about half of voters more trusted Biden in a crisis, compared to one-third who more trusted Sanders, Biden's last viable rival in the race.
In Washington, the state hit hardest by coronavirus and the second-largest state to vote on Tuesday, eight in 10 voters voiced concern about the outbreak's effects, with a plurality supporting Biden, according to the Edison Research exit polls.
Both candidates called off planned rallies in Cleveland, Ohio, on Tuesday due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak, which has rattled markets and prompted Democrats to criticize the Trump administration's response.