- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2020

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Former Vice President Joe Biden decisively won Virginia’s Democratic presidential primary Tuesday, reaffirming the state’s preference for moderate candidates over more progressive ones.

With almost all the votes counted, Biden won about 53% of the vote and virtually every county in the state. Turnout was huge for a primary and Biden won big with African American voters, as well suburban voters who will be key in the general election against President Donald Trump.

“I don’t think Joe’s perfect, but I do think he’s our best option to win this election,” said Ivy Austin, a 69-year-old co-owner of a theatrical costume shop from Richmond.

Biden’s large victory was a blow to his opponents, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former New York City Michael Bloomberg.

Biden has started consolidating support among moderate Democrats after a convincing win Saturday in South Carolina. As in that state, black voters were key to Biden’s success in Virginia, as he ran huge vote totals in areas with large African-American populations.

Virginia held its primary on Super Tuesday, a key date in the primary calendar when voters in 14 states made their picks.

The Biden victory is also a particular painful blow to Bloomberg, who has tried to position himself as the moderate alternative to Biden.

Bloomberg launched his campaign in Virginia and visited the state several times since getting in to the race as a late entrant. He spent more than $2.5 million funding groups that helped the Democrats wrest control of the state legislature and spent lavishly on field staff and television advertising in Virginia. Bloomberg came in fourth, just behind Warren. Both of them won won only about 10% of the vote.

Sanders also made several campaign stops in Virginia before the primary in hopes of showing a broad appeal for voters. He came in second with about 23% of the vote.

Once a key swing state, Democrats have won every statewide election in Virginia for the last decade, while also flipping partisan majorities in the state legislature and the congressional delegation. Voter antipathy toward Trump, particularly in the state’s fast-growing suburbs, have helped fuel that shift.

Virginia is not currently a priority for Trump’s reelection campaign, but there is concern among Democrats that if Sanders is his opponent, it will threaten down-ballot races in the state.

Freshman U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who represents a Richmond-area district that Trump won, endorsed Biden right as the polls closed.

Scott Bauer, who voted at a Richmond elementary school, said he reached the decision to vote for Biden in the past few days, after the former vice president’s decisive win in the South Carolina primary and after U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, who lives in Richmond, endorsed him.

Bauer, a 55-year-old IT consultant, said he worried about Democrats “throwing too much support” to Sanders, who he didn’t think could win in November.

Virginia tends to favor moderate Democrats over more progressive rivals.

Hillary Clinton trounced Sanders here during the Democratic presidential primary four years ago. In 2017, former Congressman Tom Perriello won widespread attention running as an unapologetic liberal answer to Trump in a bid to be governor and was endorsed by Sanders. He was soundly defeated in the Democratic primary by a low-key moderate, Ralph Northam, who easily won the general election.

Biden enjoyed the support of much of the party’s established leaders like former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Kaine.

Ivy Austin, a 69-year-old co-owner of a theatrical costume shop, voted for Joe Biden.

“I’m a moderate Democrat and I think it just needs to go to the middle because the others are just too far to the left for me,” Austin said.

___ Associated Press writer Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia, contributed to this report.

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