Next Democratic debate will not have a live audience amid coronavirus concerns

Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden
Bernie Sanders, left, and Joe Biden have both qualified for the next Democratic presidential debate on Sunday in Phoenix, but the event will not have a live audience.
(Associated Press)

The next Democratic presidential debate will not feature a live audience, the latest example of concerns about coronavirus affecting the presidential race, the Democratic National Committee announced Tuesday.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders are scheduled to debate — now with no cheers, or jeers, from spectators — Sunday in Phoenix, two days before Arizona and several other states vote on March 17.

The DNC made the decision “at the request of both campaigns and out of an abundance of caution,” Communications Director Xochitl Hinojosa said in a statement. Local health authorities did not mandate the change, she said.

“Our No. 1 priority has and will continue to be the safety of our staff, campaigns, Arizonians and all those involved in the debate,” Hinojosa said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Biden and Sanders canceled large planned rallies in Cleveland. Instead, Biden spoke to a crowd in Philadelphia on Tuesday night as he was winning another string of primary contests. In his speech, he said the governor of Ohio had asked the presidential campaigns to cancel their public events.


President Trump has vowed to continue to hold his large rallies; his campaign has scheduled a “Catholics for Trump” event in Milwaukee next week.

Joe Biden cements his status atop the Democratic presidential field, dealing a serious blow to Bernie Sanders’ hopes to reverse the former vice president’s momentum and launch a comeback.

Many states are discouraging large public gatherings. The DNC is reminding candidates to check with local authorities on what precautions to take for events, Hinojosa later told ABC News.

“We will continue to work with all of our state parties as they run their primary process and as we head into our convention,” she said.