Bernie Sanders is riding a wave of support in the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination following a resounding win in Nevada, shifting momentum in the crowded primary race and leaving his moderate counterparts battling for second place days before the South Carolina primary.
The 78-year-old Vermont senator received 46 per cent of the vote in the 60 per cent of precincts that had reported by Sunday afternoon, giving Mr. Sanders a double-digit lead over his closest competitor, Joe Biden, and handing the party’s most left-wing candidate his first major state victory after narrow wins in Iowa and New Hampshire.
“The wind is at his back,” said Robert Lang, professor of public policy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “He overperformed even the polling and he did better with Latinos than anyone had foreseen.”
Mr. Sanders has surged to the top of the Democratic race with a campaign that had assembled a diverse coalition of voters attracted to his promise of universal health care, free college tuition, protections for immigrants and stamping out of political corruption.
Entrance polls from the Nevada caucuses showed Mr. Sanders winning among a broad swath of the electorate, including among both white and Latino voters, young and old, liberal and conservative. “We are going to win because we’re bringing our people together,” he told his supporters in Las Vegas. “It’s a multiracial, multigenerational campaign that will involve working people in the political process in a way we have never seen before.”
The victory is a remarkable reversal of fortunes for Mr. Sanders, whose presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton in 2016 first began to stall after he lost Nevada. The success this year could pave the way for Mr. Sanders to cruise to victory on Super Tuesday on March 3 , when nearly a third of pledged delegates will be up for grabs in 14 states.
Yet while Mr. Sanders’s win in Nevada was decisive, he did not appear to capture an outright majority of the state’s delegates. If some candidates decide to end their campaigns in the three days between South Carolina and Super Tuesday, the smaller field could allow the party’s moderate voters to coalesce around a single anti-Sanders challenger. That could deny Mr. Sanders enough delegates to prevent a brokered national convention in the summer, opening the door for another candidate to win the nomination.
The Nevada results have added fresh urgency to the campaigns of Mr. Sanders’s competitors, who remain clustered together in the polls, while doing little to convince anyone to drop out of the race.
Joe Biden was on track to finish a distant second at 19.6 per cent in Nevada, but retained a slight lead in the polls heading into South Carolina’s Feb. 29 primary. Pete Buttigieg was running a close third in Nevada at 15.3 per cent.
Elizabeth Warren, headed for a fourth-place finish in Nevada, vowed to fight on after a strong debate performance in Las Vegas earned her US$9-million in new donations. Hedge-fund manager Tom Steyer, who finished sixth despite campaigning heavily in Nevada and South Carolina, announced Sunday that he had qualified for the televised debate on Tuesday, as has former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who will debut on the ballot on Super Tuesday.
Democrats have largely avoided attacking Mr. Sanders throughout the course of the race, instead focusing their attention on President Donald Trump and billionaire Mr. Bloomberg. But several candidates began lashing out at the Vermont senator on the weekend in hopes of slowing his momentum.
“Before we rush to nominate Senator Sanders as our one shot to take on this President, let’s take a sober look at the consequences – for our party, for our values and for those with the most at stake,” Mr. Buttigieg told a rally on Saturday.
Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign released a statement hinting that other candidates should drop out of the race or risk allowing Mr. Sanders “to amass an insurmountable delegate lead” by splitting the field.
Despite the warnings, leaving Nevada the Sanders campaign appeared to be surging on the strength of young and Latino voters.
Learning from his defeat in 2016, Mr. Sanders built an aggressive outreach operation this year into Nevada’s Latino community, which makes up close to a third of the state’s population. It’s a strategy his campaign hopes to replicate in other diverse states such as California and Texas.
Voters in Nevada were undeterred by the objections of the state’s powerful Culinary Union to Mr. Sanders’s Medicare-for-all plan. Several union members publicly announced at caucuses they would vote for him.
That flood of support came particularly from young Latino voters urging their more conservative parents to vote for Mr. Sanders, said Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a Chicago congressman and member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “Those conversations, at dinner tables, in backyards, at other gatherings in communities have not happened in American politics for a long time,” he said. “That’s Bernie’s secret weapon.”
Among those young Latino voters convincing their parents to caucus for Mr. Sanders was Alfa Montiel. Her mother is an immigrant from Mexico voting for the first time after becoming a U.S. citizen this year. Her father is a Republican who was swayed by Mr. Sanders’s promise of single-payer health care even though he is covered by union-negotiated health benefits.
“He’s a Bernie supporter, because what if he loses his job?” said Ms. Montiel, 22, a political science student at the University of Nevada.
The coalition that carried Mr. Sanders to victory in Nevada could prove pivotal on Super Tuesday. Nevada’s demographics most closely resemble those of California and Texas, the two largest states to vote on March 3, both of which have sizable Latino communities.
“Nevada was like a little mini-test of that,” Prof. Lang said. “If he performs well in those places then he starts to become prohibitive as a front-runner.