Nevada caucuses: Who won and who lost?

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Democratic presidential hopeful Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders gestures as he speaks during a rally at the Abraham Chavez Theatre on February 22, 2020 in El Paso, TexasImage source, AFP
Image caption,
Sanders was campaigning in California and Texas as Nevadans were voting

Along with a few far-flung US island territories, only four states are still using the caucus system, with its two-part voting rounds and 15% "viability" cut-offs, to determine their Democratic presidential nomination contests. Iowa, of course, went first. We know how that turned out. Now it's Nevada's time in the spotlight (or, perhaps, the barrel).

Despite reported glitches, a few caucus-site ties settled by high-card draw and plenty of calls to the state party hotline for advice, the Nevada results trickled in throughout the afternoon on Saturday, well into the evening and stretching into the morning hours. Before the day was over, it became increasingly clear who the biggest winners and losers would be.


Bernie Sanders

Four years ago, the Nevada caucuses were the moment Hillary Clinton began to turn the tide against Sanders in his upstart bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. This time around, the results could be further evidence that the Sanders surge is very real and very durable.

Caucus entrance polls show Sanders won a dominating 53% of the Hispanic vote - a demographic he struggled with against Clinton. That bodes well for the senator in the two biggest prizes coming up, Texas and California, with their sizeable Hispanic populations.

Sanders also, not as surprisingly, carried a majority of those ages 18 to 27 and voters who said they want someone who agrees with them on the issues.

If Sanders has a winning formula this time around, it could be that he has successfully diversified his coalition, while keeping his loyal support from the young and those who want a president who is with them on issues like major healthcare reform, aggressively combating climate change and addressing income inequality.

Image source, Reuters

In the caucus's first alignment voting - the preference caucus-goers expressed before they had to abandon sub-15% candidates and pick their second choice - the Sanders margin of victory did not appear nearly as large. The win, however, is still impressive. And no matter the metric, Sanders cruised to victory.

The Vermont senator appears so confident in his standing that he was campaigning in California this week and spent the day of the Nevada caucuses in Texas. If there was any doubt whether Sanders was the front-runner before now (and, quite honestly, there shouldn't have been), there is no question now.

Joe Biden

Ever since Joe Biden's struggles in Iowa presaged a downward spiral for his presidential hopes, his team has pointed to black voters as his "firewall" - an ethnic base of support that would pick him up after a rough stretch in the predominantly white first two states.

While Biden appears destined for a distant second in Nevada, with former Mayor Pete Buttigieg nipping at his heels, he finished at the top of the pack with the 10% of the voters there who are black, suggesting that his firewall hopes weren't entirely unfounded.

Image source, Getty Images

If Biden pulls those kind of numbers in South Carolina, where the Democratic electorate is 60% black, he'll probably win the state - although the margin over Sanders might be narrow. He'll take a win any way he can get it at this point, however.

Meanwhile, most of Biden's rivals for the moderate (or, perhaps, anti-Sanders) vote posted lacklustre results. While Bloomberg still lurks in the days ahead, after Wednesday's debate he doesn't seem quite so intimidating either.

It's probably not enough to win him the nomination without Sanders making a significant stumble, but for once the former vice-president has a bit of good news to work with.


Elizabeth Warren

The Massachusetts senator can't catch a break. Her respectable third-place finish in Iowa was overshadowed by the chaos resulting from the party's management of the state's caucus system. Then she had a bravura debate performance in Las Vegas on Wednesday night, highlighted by her clinical dissection of billionaire Mike Bloomberg, but it came after more than 70,000 Nevada Democrats - roughly two-thirds of the total turnout - had already cast their ballots in early voting.

Image source, Getty Images

According to entrance polls, 83% of Nevada caucus participants had made up their mind "before the past few days". Wednesday night may have helped boost her fundraising and could give her some life in states that vote in the weeks ahead, but at least in Nevada the die had already been cast.

Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg

So much for Klobmentum, or Klobucharge or whatever you want to call it. After a surprisingly strong third-place finish in New Hampshire, the Minnesota senator scrambled to try to ramp up a cash-strapped campaign to compete in Nevada, South Carolina and the nationwide string of primaries to come.

It was a tall order, and the Nevada results are not encouraging.

Image source, Getty Images

Klobuchar said in her caucus-night speech (given from Minnesota, which holds a primary on Super Tuesday) that she "exceeded expectations", but that seems like an overly optimistic assessment.

The same could be said for Buttigieg, who gave an upbeat post-Nevada speech but also didn't see his New Hampshire (and Iowa) successes turn into much of a boost. Unlike New Hampshire, he finished well behind Sanders this time around.

And Klobuchar's Wednesday debate sparring partner can say he finished ahead of her. It's not clear where he goes from here, except to the South Carolina debate stage to needle Klobuchar some more.

Tom Steyer

We could probably fill out the loser column with every single candidate not named Bernie Sanders, but for space purposes we'll stop at the California hedge-fund billionaire.

He poured vast sums into Nevada while others were ignoring the state to focus on Iowa and New Hampshire. His efforts succeeded in getting poll numbers that landed him on quite a few debate stages, but it didn't translate into actual support once voters started caucusing.

Image source, Reuters

He's tried a similar move in South Carolina, where surveys show him as high as third. The Nevada results, however, suggest he may be in for a similar collapse on primary day next Saturday.

In fact, South Carolina is going to be the last chance for all of the candidates hoping to pick up some much-needed momentum before the 3 March Super Tuesday states, when more than a quarter of all the Democratic convention delegates are at stake.

It will be a week of desperation for many, as the end of the line looms.

Take a closer look at the candidates