Hillary Clinton beat out rival Bernie Sanders to win the Nevada caucuses after a frenetic final blitz of campaigning, denying Sanders a golden opportunity to capitalize on his early momentum and raising questions about where else he can win in the weeks ahead.
“Some may have doubted us, but we never doubted each other,” Clinton said at her victory party in the Caesars Palace casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
Clinton went on to outline the problems facing the country, from “crumbling classes” in South Carolina to the toxic water in Flint, Mich. “Americans are right to be angry,” she said. “But we’re also hungry for real solutions.”
Sanders outspent Clinton 2 to 1 on TV ads in the state, and managed to build up his campaign operation to rival hers in size. But Team Clinton, which had been in the state since April under the direction of Barack Obama campaign alum Emmy Ruiz, was better organized. Clinton’s female-focused outreach strategy in Nevada paid off, with exit polls showing Clinton winning among women by 16 percentage points, reversing the embarrassing New Hampshire trend of women choosing Sanders. Clinton once led the state by large margins, but a poll last week showed she and Sanders in a dead heat. The former secretary of state canceled a campaign rally in Florida this week and spent an extra day campaigning in Nevada.
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won the Democratic caucuses in Nevada, where she campaigned actively to secure a victory. (Photo: John Locher/AP)
Her high-profile surrogates, including actress Eva Longoria and Cabinet member Tom Perez, flooded the state and held multiple events every day, out-campaigning Sanders’ team.
“We knew that the race was going to be tight, and we wanted to make sure that we left nothing on the field,” said Jorge Neri, Clinton’s Nevada field organizer.
Female voters who flocked to a casino caucus site Saturday morning said they liked Sanders but ultimately sided with Clinton, in part because they believed she would understand their issues better than Sanders.
“First of all, she’s a woman; she will understand a woman’s needs,” said Fernanda Breciado, 55, a housekeeping supervisor at Caesars Palace who was voting during her lunch break. “She has the support of the greatest president,” she added, referring to Bill Clinton.
Jennifer Palmieri, a Clinton spokeswoman, said Hillary’s performance with women was good news. “It’s one state, it’s one race, but that’s pretty good,” she said. “We understand we have work to do with white men.”
The state brought out tension between the two candidates. On Thursday, an exhausted-looking Sanders and Clinton crossed paths at a town hall focused on immigration issues in Las Vegas. Clinton took a poke at Sanders’ earlier criticism of Obama and her husband. “Maybe it’s that Sen. Sanders wasn’t really a Democrat until he decided to run for president. He doesn’t know what the last two Democratic presidents did,” she said as the crowd booed. In an interview with BET later, Sanders suggested Clinton was heaping praise on Obama merely to pander to black voters.
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, gesture in front of supporters after she was projected to be the winner in the Democratic caucuses in Las Vegas on Saturday. (Photo: David Becker/Reuters)
Eleven miles away from Clinton’s victory party on the Las Vegas Strip, Sanders’ supporters reassembled at the Henderson Pavilion, site of the Vermont senator’s final pre-caucus rally the night before, to cheer on their candidate. Campaign officials originally planned to start the program at 5 p.m. local time, suggesting that they believed the caucuses would be close and the votes would take a long time to count. But Clinton was declared the winner at about 2:30 p.m., and Sanders wound up speaking earlier than expected. About 400 supporters, who were still streaming in when Sanders took the stage, clustered near the front of the 2,444-seat amphitheater waving “A Future to Believe In” signs.
“You know, five weeks ago we were 25 points behind in the polls,” Sanders said. “We’ve made some real progress.”
Sanders accepted his defeat, but it was hard to ignore the notes of defiance and even defensiveness in his remarks. He “applaud[ed]” Clinton’s campaign for being “very aggressive” — not exactly a compliment. He warned that Clinton’s “very wealthy and powerful super-PAC — a super-PAC that receives lots of money from Wall Street and special interests” would be coming after him in the weeks ahead. And he repeatedly argued that “momentum” was more important than victory.
“What this entire campaign has been about is the issue of momentum,” Sanders said. “Taking on the establishment is not easy. … It is clear to me and to many observers that the wind is at our backs.”
If Sanders could have pulled out a victory in Nevada, it would have gone a long way toward silencing critics who say he can only win among white voters, and lacks the broad appeal to be the party’s nominee. Entrance polls found that black voters went for Clinton 3 to 1, and while the same polls showed Sanders outpacing Clinton among Latinos, it’s likely those results were misleading.
In an email to backers, Sanders argued that even in losing Nevada, he had proven he could do well among a diverse pool of voters. “Nevada was supposed to be a state ‘tailor-made’ for the Clinton campaign, and a place she once led by almost 40 points,” he said. “But today we sent a message that will stun the political and financial establishment of this country: Our campaign can win anywhere.”
Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters at a rally in Henderson, Nev., after rival candidate Hillary Clinton was projected to be the winner in the Nevada Democratic caucuses on Saturday. (Photo: Jim Young/Reuters)
That claim will be put to the test in the coming weeks as the Democratic nominating contest first moves on to South Carolina — where black voters typically play a decisive role and where Clinton leads Sanders by an average of 24 percentage points — before heading into a rapid succession of March primaries and caucuses widely thought to favor the former secretary of state.
“I’ve always believed March was going to be Hillary Clinton’s month,” David Plouffe, Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign manager and a current Clinton supporter, said this week. “The Texases of the world, the Georgias of the world — they become very important. Michigan becomes very important on March 8. And then March 15 is, I think, the most important day on the calendar — those large Midwestern and Southern states (Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio), where I think she will do very well.”
As the results came rolling in, top Clinton backers began to tout Nevada as a game-changer. “This victory had to overcome the momentum Sanders got in New Hampshire and the spin from the pundits,” said Robert Zimmerman, a Clinton fundraiser and Democratic National Committee member. “It really speaks to Hillary Clinton’s message and also the strength of their campaign organization.”
But in an interview with Yahoo News after Sanders’ speech, senior adviser Tad Devine disagreed, pointing to Massachusetts, Vermont, Colorado, Minnesota and “the Midwest” as contests Sanders could win going forward.
“I think [Nevada] proves that they are not in total meltdown,” Devine added, referring to the Clinton campaign. “And it proves that we can begin to coalesce a winning campaign coalition in America. This is just the beginning.”