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UPDATE Feb. 23, 8:36 a.m.: With 50% of precincts reporting, Bernie Sanders is extending his lead:
- Sanders 46.6%
- Biden 19.2%
- Buttgieg 15.4%
- Warren 10.3%
- Klobuchar 4.5%
LAS VEGAS — It looks like Bernie's walking away with it.
Bernie Sanders won Nevada’s Democratic caucuses on Saturday, multiple networks projected, a huge victory driven by a strikingly strong performance among Latinos in the first diverse state to vote in the primary process.
The win further cements Sanders’ front-runner status in the Democratic field, after a popular vote win in Iowa and an outright win in New Hampshire. And no other candidate looked like they were performing strongly enough to rally serious support ahead of Super Tuesday’s critical primaries, less than 10 days away.
The vote itself was taking quite some time to report, largely because of a last-minute system the state party had to put in place to avoid risking an repeat of the botched Iowa caucus .
Sanders had a huge lead with 54% of the vote — but just 4% of precincts had been counted when the race was called for him before 5 p.m. local time, so that may narrow.
Joe Biden was in a distant second at 18%, with Elizabeth Warren at 10%, Pete Buttigieg at 9%, Tom Steyer at 8%, and Amy Klobuchar at 3%.
According to entrance polls, Sanders led in nearly every major demographic group. He won every age group except those over 65, and he won an outright majority of Hispanic voters, pulling 53% of Latinos with no other candidate cracking 20%.
He also won white voters by a comfortable margin in the state, and trailed Biden with black voters by just 36% to 29%, a respectable showing given how heavily reliant Biden is on black voters to resuscitate his campaign.
The dominant win gives Sanders some major momentum heading into South Carolina, where polls show he’s catching up as Biden’s lead there has evaporated. Even more important, it delivers Sanders his clearest victory to date heading into Super Tuesday.
Once next Tuesday’s results are tabulated, 40% of the Democratic primary delegates will be locked in, and right now Sanders is the only candidate who is pulling large enough numbers in those states to have a clear shot at the Democratic nomination.
Sanders was so comfortable in his position in Nevada that he spent Saturday campaigning in Texas, one of the big prizes on Super Tuesday. He’d popped off the trail in Nevada in previous days for campaign swings to Washington and California, two other Super Tuesday states.
“We won the popular vote in Iowa, we won the New Hampshire primary, and according to three networks and the AP, we have now won the Nevada caucus,” Sanders declared to cheers at a San Antonio rally shortly after Nevada was called, and after predicting he’d win the Texas primary too. “In Nevada we have just put together a multi-generational, multi-racial coalition that is not only going to win Nevada, it’s going to sweep this country.”
The caucuses began at noon local time, 3 p.m. EST, and most were wrapped within three hours. But precinct captains had to call a hotline to report the numbers, leading to delays and busy signals as they waited to get those results in to the state party.
Biden sought to spin the results as a positive, grinning as a supporter from the crowd called him “the comeback kid” and dismissing the view that his lagging campaign won’t be able to catch Sanders.
“The press is ready to declare people dead quickly. But we're alive, we're going to come back, and we're going to win!” he told supporters at an International Brotherhood of Electric Workers union hall in Las Vegas Saturday afternoon.
Biden predicted a win in South Carolina — a must-win for him. But at this point it’s unclear whether even that will be enough for him. Sanders is inching ahead in polls of the majority of Super Tuesday states, and while Michael Bloomberg’s debate debacle earlier this week may have hurt his chances, the hundreds of millions of dollars he’s spending on national TV advertising mean he’s the only candidate who will be able to air a relevant number of ads in the next week-plus.
The other candidates spent most of their efforts tearing into Bloomberg, not Sanders, at last Wednesday’s debate. But after Sanders’ strong Nevada win, they are finally, belatedly, starting to treat Sanders as the front-runner.
“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,” warned Buttigieg in his Saturday speech. “Senator Sanders believes in an inflexible, ideological revolution that leaves out most Democrats, not to mention most Americans.”
It’s still unclear whether Sanders will be able to string together a majority of delegates to avoid a contested convention. But while he’s pacing below 50% nationally, there’s no one else even close to him in the field right now.
Until proven otherwise, the Democratic nomination is Sanders’ to lose.
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Cover: Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont and 2020 presidential candidate, speaks during a campaign event in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Friday, Feb. 21, 2020. (Photo: Joe Buglewicz/Bloomberg via Getty Images)