- Embattled Democratic candidate didn't exactly run the tables
- Super Tuesday in March another test of Sanders's message
The two candidates still standing for the Democratic presidential nomination each claimed to have momentum coming out of Nevada’s caucuses, where Hillary Clinton posted her first clear win over Bernie Sanders in the 2016 nominating contests.
Clinton, who weeks ago led in the state by an estimated 25 percentage points, pulled out the win by more than five points, 52.7 percent to 47.2 percent. The victory was a chance to erase a nightmare 22-point loss in New Hampshire on Feb. 9, but came with cautionary signs about the difficulty of putting away Bernie Sanders for good and moving on to the general election.
“I’m very hopeful. And we will continue to work hard to make that case and to win over as many voters as possible to get the nomination,” Clinton said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Clinton was expected to have run the tables in Nevada, a state where she was better organized, and better known, with a Nevada guru in campaign manager Robby Mook, and with a diverse base of voters who were supposed to be leery of Sanders’s socialist-from-Vermont message.
Yet for a few hours on Saturday it looked just as nip-and-tuck as Iowa. And Clinton’s margin probably isn’t enough to stop Sanders’ momentum as the contest moves to South Carolina, which holds its Democratic primary in one week.
Sanders’s message about the system being rigged against average Americans has been shown to have a durable appeal, one that travels to different regions and across ethnic groups. It’s one that Clinton has been able to neither neutralize nor fully appropriate as her own, although she recently has stepped up her rhetoric against Wall Street.
Still, Nevada shifts the burden for the next win to Sanders, forcing him to prove he has appeal in more ethnically and geographically diverse states than Iowa and New Hampshire, which are overwhelmingly white.
Sanders said his come-from-even-further-behind defeat was really a victory of sorts.
“I wish we had had a larger voter turnout. But by the way, we did phenomenally well with young people. I think we did well with working class people,” he said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Polls also show Clinton ahead in South Carolina, where African-Americans comprise about half of Democratic voters, and the contests that follow on March 1, known as Super Tuesday. Among the 11 Democratic contests that day are a swath in southern and heavily minority states.
In her victory speech Saturday at the Caesars Palace casino in Las Vegas, Clinton suggested she’s heard the criticisms that her campaign’s messaging until now has been too self-focused and not enough about voters, including younger voters captivated by Sanders.
“This one’s for you,” she told the Nevada audience. “This is your campaign.” She also made a specific pitch to younger voters, saying her campaign “has to be about what we’re going to build together” and applauding their generation for being the “most tolerant and connected” in U.S. history.
Sanders, in his concession speech, said he’s bringing working-class and young Americans into the process and predicted he will win several Super Tuesday contests and kick on to “pull off one of the great political upsets in the history of the United States” by defeating Clinton for the nomination.
‘A Good Shot’
“I think we have a good shot in Colorado, a good shot in Minnesota, a good shot in Massachusetts. I think we are looking pretty good in Oklahoma,” Sanders said on NBC. “And I think we will surprise people in some other states as well,” noting that his campaign was “looking hard” at Michigan and parts of Texas.
David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and a senior analyst with Latino Decisions, said Clinton’s win in Nevada demonstrates two pockets of strength for the former secretary of state. She did well among Latinos and also among African-American voters in North Las Vegas, a good sign for her heading into South Carolina. And she performed well among rank-and-file union members, including those who packed casino caucus sites, a plus for her looking ahead to Rust Belt states.
Sanders is “not going to have the luxury moving forward of having weeks and weeks to organize,” Damore said. “That passion and activism gets blunted in primaries with much larger turnouts. It’s just much more difficult for him moving forward, with the calendar.”
Sanders, in an e-mail to supporters seeking $3 contributions after conceding the state to Clinton, wrote that there remains “a path to victory for our political revolution” and that he is “closing the gap dramatically in states that have yet to vote.”
“Nevada was supposed to be a state ‘tailor made’ for the Clinton campaign, and a place she once led by almost 40 points,” the e-mail said. He said the closeness of his loss had “sent a message that will stun the political and financial establishment of this country: our campaign can win anywhere.”
On Sunday, Clinton made a case for her broader appeal. “I don’t think we are a single-issue country. And I am certainly not a single-issue candidate,” she said on CNN, citing the concerns -- “from health care to education” -- that voters in Nevada brought to her attention.