Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., with his wife Jane O'Meara Sanders, waves his hand during a rally in El Paso, Texas, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (Photo: AP)
Bernie Sanders scored a resounding victory in Nevada’s presidential caucuses on Saturday, cementing his status as the Democrats’ national front-runner amid escalating tensions over whether he’s too liberal to defeat President Donald Trump.
While Sanders scored a strong victory, a cluster of candidates was fighting for a distant second place — and any momentum that may come with it heading into next-up South Carolina and then Super Tuesday on March 3. Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren were trailing far behind Sanders.
The 78-year-old Vermont senator successfully rallied his fiercely loyal base and tapped into support from Nevada’s large Latino community as the Democratic contest moved for the first time into a state with a significant minority population.
In a show of confidence, Sanders left Nevada early to rally supporters in Texas, which offers one of the biggest delegate troves in just 10 days on Super Tuesday. The progressive senator told cheering supporters in El Paso that Trump is “a pathological liar running a corrupt administration.”
“When we come together there is nothing we can’t accomplish,” Sanders declared.
The win built on Sanders’ win earlier this month in the New Hampshire primary. He essentially tied for first place in the Iowa caucuses with Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who has sought to position himself as an ideological counter to Sanders’ unabashed progressive politics, but was fighting for a distant second place in Nevada.
The victory, while encouraging for Sanders supporters, only deepens concern among establishment-minded Democratic leaders who fear that the self-described democratic socialist is too extreme to defeat Trump. Sanders for decades has been calling for transformative policies to address inequities in politics and the economy, none bigger than his signature “Medicare for All” health care plan that would replace the private insurance system with a government-run universal system.
Despite establishment anxiety, moderates are struggling to unify behind a single candidate, and the vote on Saturday was again split between several candidates.
Those included Massachusetts Sen. Warren, who desperately needed a spark to revive her stalled bid; billionaire Tom Steyer, who spent more than $12 million on Nevada television, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who hoped to prove her strong New Hampshire finish was no fluke.
Biden claimed success — but not victory — as he addressed cheering supporters in Las Vegas.
“Now we’re going on to South Carolina to win and we’re going to take this thing back,” he declared.
And without naming names, he took a swipe at Sanders and billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who wasn’t on the Nevada ballot but has emerged as a threat to Biden in contests that begin next month.
After the chaos of Iowa’s caucuses, there were concerns about Nevada’s similar setup. But no major problems were in sight.
The first presidential contest in the West tested the candidates’ strength with black and Latino voters for the first time in 2020. Nevada’s population aligns more with the U.S. as a whole, compared with Iowa and New Hampshire: 29% Latino, 10% black and 9% Asian American and Pacific Islander.
The Nevada verdict represents the third in a primary season that will span all 50 states and several U.S. territories, ending only at the party’s national convention in July. But with two more rounds of voting scheduled over the next 10 days -- including Super Tuesday’s massive delegate haul -- the party may identify a consensus candidate long before the convention.