Bernie Sanders took a commanding lead in Nevada with very early results showing him beating rival Democratic presidential candidates by wide margins.
A decisive win for Sanders among the state’s diverse electorate would cement his status as the front-runner and deprive low-performing candidates of the momentum they need to go forward to later contests.
Joe Biden was holding second place in early returns. He had promised voters after disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire that he would come in first or second in Nevada.
Fox News projected Sanders would win the race, about two hours after the caucuses opened. Other networks said it was too early to project the winner.
Entrance polls broadcast on CNN suggest Sanders had broad support across demographic groups, with the most support from Latinos and in every age group except those 65 and older, who were supporting Biden. Biden was also leading among African American voters.
Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, also dominated caucus goers who describe themselves as very liberal or somewhat liberal, well ahead of his progressive rival Elizabeth Warren. He was even ahead with those who said they were moderate or conservative, with 23% support, edging Biden, who had 22%.
Heading into the caucus, Sanders held a double-digit lead in the RealClearPolitics average of Nevada polls ahead of the vote, with Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Warren all bunched up in the fight for a distant second.
Buttigieg is the only other Democrat who’s won a contest, with his narrow victory in Iowa. Biden and Warren have finished far back in the pack in the first two votes, and anything less than second place would make it hard for them to springboard into the 14 races on March 3 — states that include Texas, North Carolina, Minnesota and the biggest prize: California.
Warren hopes her strong debate performance this week in Las Vegas, regarded as her best of the campaign, will inspire some voters to give her a second look. Her main target that night, Michael Bloomberg, whose unprecedented spending has made him a wild card in the 2020 primaries, is not contesting Nevada.
(Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)
Warren’s campaign announced that she had doubled a $7 million goal by early Saturday. Whether that money translates into votes remains to be seen. A four-day early voting period wrapped up before the debate.
Donuts and Selfies
The candidates spent the day reaching out to voters and visiting caucus sites.
Warren brought donuts and posed for her famous selfies with volunteers. At Cheyenne High School in North Las Vegas, where 14 precincts are caucusing, Biden charmed the crowd of 150 and said he believed the primary was a test for whether the party wanted to move to the left, with Sanders, or take a more moderate path.
“That’s the battle inside the party right now and there’s a lot of differences among us that are being made more obvious now,” he said. “The contrast is becoming clearer and clearer in how we’re going to move forward.”
Buttigieg greeted supporters at Sierra Vista High School in Las Vegas. He faces his biggest test in trying to win over voters of color, as polls have shown he significantly trails Biden and Sanders with black and Latino voters.
“We’re encouraged that some of the most diverse crowds we’ve had yet had been here in Nevada too so definitely a great opportunity for us to show that broadening coalition,” Buttigieg said as he walked through the school.
Timing of Results
Nevada’s caucus comes on the heels of the Iowa debacle, which left everyone waiting days for final results. And while Nevada party officials have taken pains to avoid a repeat, they have said they cannot promise timely results.
The Nevada party held last-minute classes to train volunteers to use a new calculator on party-ownedApple Inc. iPads. To address concerns about user error, volunteers will also be expected to call the results into a phone hotline and input them on a paper record.
There were reports that some caucus sites were short of volunteers, but Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak tamped down fears of another night of snafus. He told CNN on Saturday that the volunteers he’s spoken to had no trouble grasping the process, and that the caucus methodology was clearly explained when he cast an early ballot.
At stake are 36 pledged delegates to the national convention of the 1,991 needed to secure the party’s nomination. More important than delegates, each win gives candidates momentum going into later contests.
This year, Nevada allowed for early voting in which people could rank their top three candidates, with the option of ranking up to five. About 77,000 Nevadans filled out ballots early. The number of early voters was almost as many as the total who caucused in 2016, when 84,000 people came out support a candidate.
Chris Miller, the former chairman of the Clark County Democratic Party who is backing Buttigieg, said it’s still anyone’s game.
“Honest to God I think it’s a toss-up,” Miller said. “Bernie has an advantage but I think Biden will do well here. If he doesn’t, he’s done.” Referring to the early voting, he added, “The turnout numbers were huge, no one expected it to be that high, no one knows what’s going to happen.”
One challenge for Sanders is his complicated relationship with organized labor in Nevada, where unions are particularly influential. TheCulinary Workers Union, the state’s largest with 60,000 members, released a flier denouncing Medicare for All plans like the one advocated by Sanders. However, the union declined to endorse a candidate, which was seen as a blow to Biden, who its leadership called a “friend.”
One thing Saturday’s vote will not settle is where Bloomberg — and his hundreds of millions of dollars — will land in the Democratic race. He is not on the ballot in Nevada, although he appeared in the most recent debate there by getting more than 10% in four national polls.
The former New York mayor has already dropped more than $468 million on advertising around the country and despite a widely panned debate performance, will be a factor in the race once he appears on ballots starting on Super Tuesday, March 3.
— With assistance by Jennifer Epstein, Tyler Pager, and Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou
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