Bernie Sanders is projected to win the Nevada caucuses, strengthening the Vermont senator’s lead in the race for the 2020 Democratic nomination.
With almost half the results officially reported on Saturday evening, Sanders was headed for a comfortable victory. It remained unclear when final results would be in, but by 8pm local time, the former vice-president Joe Biden appeared set to come in second, the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg third, and the Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren fourth.
Here are the initial takeaways of the “first-in-the-west” primary:
Sanders wins the Latino vote and cruises to victory
Sanders owes his victory in Nevada in large part to his Latino supporters. More than half of Hispanic voters supported Sanders as their first choice, according to an NBC entrance poll. The campaign invested big, and early, in outreach to the community in this state, where Latino citizens account for one in five voters.
“Traditionally, outreach to Latino voters is done at the last minute, but we think when you win the Latino voter, that’s the path to the White House,” said Belén Sisa, the Latino press secretary for Sanders, who came to make a last pitch voters at a Desert Pines caucus location in East Las Vegas.
The Sanders campaign bet big on attracting voters who don’t normally participate in the political process – including Latinx people, young people and minorities. In Nevada, that has meant deploying an army of volunteers and staff to make phone calls and knock on doors. The campaign also hosted events such as “Tamales for Tío Bernie” and a soccer match ahead of the caucus. In some parts of Vegas, “our volunteers are on a first name basis with people in the community”, Sisa said.
Sanders solidifies his lead
Sanders has put on a strong showing in all three primary states. He won the popular vote in Iowa and took home a large share of delegates in that state, and came in first in the primary in New Hampshire.
In South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states, where the diverse electorate looks a lot more like Nevada than predominantly white Iowa and New Hampshire, Sanders could be poised to take the Democratic nomination.
Meanwhile, his opponents continue to split the votes of more centrist Democratic voters, leaving Sanders with the most delegates won so far.
Post-caucuses, while Sanders projected himself as the ultimate foil to Donald Trump, some of his opponents sought to tear him down. Pete Buttigieg told supporters in Las Vegas that Sanders was too divisive to be the nominee. “Senator Sanders believes in an inflexible, ideological revolution that leaves out most Democrats, not to mention most Americans,” Buttigieg said. “I believe we need to defeat Trump and turn the page on this era in our politics by establishing a tone of belonging.”
Biden declares himself alive
Joe Biden’s team expects the former vice-president to come in second in Nevada, revitalizing his flagging campaign. At least for now. “The press is ready to declare people dead quickly. Well, we are alive,” Biden told supporters in Las Vegas while the results were still being tabulated. Biden sought to sell himself as the most viable moderate in the race. “I ain’t a socialist. I ain’t a plutocrat, I’m a Democrat. And proud of it!” Biden said.
Biden is counting on a strong result in South Carolina next week and in Super Tuesday states on 3 March to remain in the race.
Challenges ahead for Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Warren
For the other candidates, Sanders’ runaway victory in Nevada doesn’t bode well. Elizabeth Warren’s strong debate performance didn’t seem to translate to delegates on caucus day. Part of the trouble for may have been that nearly 75,000 people voted early, before the debate. Warren was in fourth place, behind Buttigieg.
Buttigieg, too, has concerns ahead. Although the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor performed well in Iowa and New Hampshire, he wasn’t able to win over Nevada’s diverse electorate. According to NBC entrance polls, Buttigieg had 18% of support among white voters, 10% among Hispanic voters and a mere 2% among black voters.
Amy Klobuchar’s path to the nomination appears to be closing. The Minnesota senator ranked fifth in Iowa and third in New Hampshire, and came in near the bottom in Nevada on Saturday night.
Healthcare was a major issue for many voters
Many of the voters the Guardian’s reporters spoke with before and after the caucuses said healthcare was among their major concerns.
At a Sanders rally the night before the caucus, Daniel Dunbar, 59, said the Vermont senator’s Medicare for All plan felt urgently necessary. “My brother died yesterday on the way to the hospital,” Dunbar said. With a Medicare for All system, his brother might have been able to get to a closer emergency room – in time, Dunbar argued. “I don’t like that you have to take your bank with you to the hospital,” he said.
An entrance poll from the Washington Post found that six in 10 voters said they supported creating a single-payer healthcare system.
Ahead of the caucuses, the powerful Culinary Workers Union, which says it represents 60,000 hotel and casino workers in Nevada and provides hard-won health insurance for 130,000 people, came out this month opposing Sanders’ health proposal. But that doesn’t seem to have deterred union voters. At the Bellagio Hotel on the Las Vegas strip, where more than a hundred casino workers gathered under the ballroom chandeliers to caucus on Saturday, Sanders had the most support.
“I have great health insurance through my union,” said Monica Smith, 54, who works for in-room dining at the Bellagio. But she said Sanders’ Medicare for All plan appealed because she wanted her friends, family and co-workers who didn’t belong to a union to have access to equally good healthcare.