The senator from one of the whitest states in the US on Saturday trounced his rivals in the first primary of the 2020 election cycle that actually reflects the racial diversity of the country and the Democratic party.
The Vermont senator Bernie Sanders won a resounding victory in Nevada, buoyed by strong support among Latino voters. Sanders’ victory in the desert state strengthens his position as the party’s frontrunner and sends him into the next, high-stakes phase of the primary with a burst of momentum.
“We’ve brought together a multigenerational, multiracial coalition that is not only going to win Nevada,” Sanders said from a rally in San Antonio after the race had been called on Saturday. “It’s going to sweep this country.”
Saturday’s caucuses in Nevada, where more than 30% of the population is Hispanic, was the first real test of Latino support in the 2020 Democratic primary – and the result was promising for Sanders. According to CNN’s entrance poll, Sanders is projected to have won the support of 51% of Hispanic Democrats in Nevada.
In the final stretch of the race, Democrats ramped up their outreach efforts to Latinos with taco trucks, mariachi bands and even a soccer tournament. But organizers and activists said Sanders, known affectionately by some supporters as “Tío Bernie” has been particularly effective at mobilizing Latino voters by investing early in communities that often feel left out of the political process.
“Meaningful outreach is essential,” said Clarissa Martinez de Castro, the deputy vice-president of UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Latino advocacy group. “What we are seeing is proof that when the outreach is there – and when it’s meaningful – it generates a response.”
María Urbina, the national political director for the progressive group Indivisible, which has not endorsed a candidate yet, said Sanders’ victory in Nevada was the result of his “deep and longstanding investments to Latinx and youth communities” and his consistent advocacy for universal healthcare and student loan debt relief. There is still room for other candidates to catch him, Urbina believes, but Sanders’ win “speaks to his growing strength in the general”.
Sanders’ supporters, meanwhile, argued that his finish in Nevada proved his theory of the electorate and showed that an uncompromising progressive agenda could resonate in nonwhite states.
“In a diverse electorate that looks the most like Super Tuesday states, Democrats chose Bernie Sanders as their candidate to defeat Donald Trump,” said Alexandra Rojas, the executive director of Justice Democrats, a leftwing group that grew out of Sanders’ 2016 campaign. “It’s clear that the Democratic voters with the most energy behind them look and think a lot more like [congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] than Joe Biden.”
In the coming days the contest will move into what Martinez de Castro called “Latino Super Tuesday” on 3 March, when states with large Hispanic populations like Texas and California will vote and roughly 40% of pledged delegates will be awarded. Recent surveys show Sanders leading in both states.
A poll released Friday by the University of Massachusetts Lowell, found Sanders with a 16-point lead in California among Hispanics, who make up a larger share of the state’s population than white voters. Many California voters have already made up their mind: ballots were mailed on 3 February, the same day of the Iowa caucuses.
In Texas, polls show Sanders with a narrow edge over Biden. Though the former vice-president leads Sanders among black and Latino voters in the state, according to a recent University of Massachusetts Lowell survey
History has shown that once a candidate accumulates a sizable delegate lead it becomes increasingly more difficult – and mathematically improbable – for a rival to catch up.
As Sanders’s declared victory, his Democratic rivals warned that his leftwing politics were too divisive to bring together a coalition that could defeat Donald Trump in November. But with multiple Democratic candidates vowing to compete through Super Tuesday, there is no consensus on who is best positioned to stop him.
“The Nevada results reinforce the reality that this fragmented field is putting Bernie Sanders on pace to amass an insurmountable delegate lead,” Kevin Sheekey, the campaign manager for Mike Bloomberg, said in a statement on Saturday.
Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York who did not contest the early states, has sought to portray himself as the party’s best hope of denying Sanders the nomination. But a shaky debut performance in this week’s debate has raised questions about his performance despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars on television and digital advertising that have boosted his standing nationally.
In Nevada on Saturday night, the rest of the field was locked in a competitive race for second place as they urged voters to align behind them before it was too late.
“Before we rush to nominate Senator Sanders as our one shot to take on this president … let us take a sober look at the consequences – for our party, for our values and for those with the most at stake,” Pete Buttigieg said at an election party in Las Vegas.
After two strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, Buttigieg arrived in Nevada with a narrow delegate lead. But his performance on Saturday did little to quell doubts about his ability to appeal to nonwhite voters, who will be critical in the coming contests.
Speaking from a union hall across town, Biden, who led the field until voting began in Iowa, continued to make the case that he was the strongest candidate to take on Trump in November, even as he lost to Sanders in a third consecutive contest. He said his campaign was very “alive” and predicted that he would win in South Carolina, where the race turns next, on the strength of his support among black voters who make up a majority of the state’s Democratic electorate.
“I ain’t a socialist, I ain’t a plutocrat, I’m a Democrat – and proud of it,” the former vice-president, who was in second place, told supporters at his caucus day event.
Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator, roared back this week with a sharp debate performance in which she landed precision blows against all of her opponents, including Sanders. But tens of thousands of Nevadans had already cast their vote at that point.
“We have many states to go, and right now I can feel the momentum,” Warren told thousands of supporters at a rally in Seattle on Saturday night.
Donald Trump, who has been eyeing Sanders’ rise with apparent glee, had kinder words for “Crazy Bernie” than his Democratic opponents.
“Looks like Crazy Bernie is doing well in the Great State of Nevada. Biden & the rest look weak, & no way Mini Mike can restart his campaign after the worst debate performance in the history of Presidential Debates,” Trump said in a tweet. “Congratulations Bernie, & don’t let them take it away from you!”
Addressing supporters in Texas, Sanders on Saturday night was buoyant about his prospects in the state.
“Don’t tell anybody, I don’t want to make them nervous,” Sanders said sarcastically, “but we’re going to win the Democratic primary in Texas.”
If what happens in Vegas happens in California and Texas, Sanders may be hard to catch.