NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, February 24th, 2020

Nevada cements Bernie Sanders’ position as the Democratic frontrunner

Sat­ur­day’s Neva­da Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus­es deliv­ered Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders an indis­putable vic­to­ry and solid­i­fied his posi­tion as the fron­trun­ner for the 2020 Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial nomination.

Bernie and Jane Sanders at the conclusion of Tacoma rally

Bernie and Jane Sanders acknowl­edge the 17,000+ sup­port­ers inside the Taco­ma Dome with fists clenched in sol­dar­i­ty (Pho­to: Ren­nie Sawade/NPI)

After the ini­tial lack of results (and then error-laden results) in the poor­ly run Iowa Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus­es fol­lowed by a razor-thin win in New Hamp­shire, Sanders lapped the field in the Sil­ver State: he won 46.8% of the vote in the first align­ment while the run­n­er-up, for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden, won just 20.4%.

In third place was South Bend’s May­or Pete Buttigieg, with 13.9%, fol­lowed by Eliz­a­beth War­ren (9.8%), Tom Stey­er (4.6%), and Amy Klobuchar (4.2%).

Sanders’ win exceed­ed already-high expec­ta­tions; over the past cou­ple of weeks, polls had shown him win­ning around 36% of the vote in Neva­da. The Ver­mont social­ist drew on a broad coali­tion of sup­port to claim this vic­to­ry, win­ning men and women, union and non-union house­holds, Lati­nos and whites, and all but the old­est age cat­e­go­ry. The core of Sanders’ sup­port came from young vot­ers, Lati­nos, and very lib­er­al vot­ers, all of whom vot­ed over 50% for him.

Sanders’ cam­paign has been praised for its supe­ri­or grass­roots orga­niz­ing, which helped dri­ve a large turnout in Neva­da, espe­cial­ly among young and Lati­no vot­ers. The cam­paign orga­nized com­mu­ni­ty events – such as soc­cer tour­na­ments – in Lati­no neigh­bor­hoods, worked along­side immi­­grant-rights groups, offered train­ing for vol­un­teers in Span­ish, and pro­vid­ed trans­la­tion ser­vices at the caucuses.

The vote also proved the pow­er of Sanders’ grass­roots move­ment against estab­lished polit­i­cal inter­ests. In the run-up to the cau­cus­es the most pow­er­ful labor union in the state – UNITE HERE Local 226, which rep­re­sents over 60,000 culi­nary work­ers – attacked Medicare For All (Sanders’ sig­na­ture pol­i­cy) as “the end of Culi­nary health­care.” Despite these and oth­er dire warn­ings, most culi­nary work­ers bucked their union lead­ers and vot­ed for Sanders, in large part thanks to engage­ment by moti­vat­ed young pro-Sanders activists.

Joe Biden will like­ly be qui­et­ly pleased by his out­come in Nevada.

Despite the vote defin­i­tive­ly hand­ing the front-run­n­er sta­tus to Sanders – a sta­tus Biden held onto for over a year – sec­ond place is the best result Biden has achieved so far, and was slight­ly bet­ter than the polling indi­cat­ed for him.

Biden’s team have tout­ed the result as the start of a “come­back” for the for­mer-Vice Pres­i­dent. In the after­math of ter­ri­ble results in both Iowa and New Hamp­shire, and the appear­ance of Michael Bloomberg as an alter­na­tive fig­ure­head for vot­ers who don’t lean towards the Demo­c­ra­t­ic party’s lib­er­al wing, this is not an unrea­son­able claim. How­ev­er, Biden and his team still have a lot of work to do if they are to over­take Sanders and return to the dom­i­nant posi­tion they held ear­ly in the cam­paign – a daunt­ing prospect, giv­en the campaign’s pre­car­i­ous finances.

For­mer May­or Pete Buttigieg is also like­ly to be cau­tious­ly pleased by his third-place posi­tion in Neva­da. While he slight­ly under-per­­formed his polling, he is by no means fac­ing the kind of col­lapse Joe Biden saw in the first two states.

His result is large­ly due to his campaign’s clever strate­gic approach to the state, focus­ing on rur­al coun­ties that the oth­er can­di­dates large­ly neglect­ed; a sim­i­lar approach helped Barack Oba­ma clinch Neva­da in the 2008 caucuses.

Buttigieg’s team is like­ly to spin this result in the most racial­­ly-diverse state yet to vote as evi­dence against his weak­ness with minor­i­ty vot­ers – although the loom­ing South Car­oli­na pri­ma­ry will prove much more defin­i­tive on that issue.

Sen­a­tor Eliz­a­beth War­ren had a dis­ap­point­ing night in Nevada.

Her elec­tri­fy­ing per­for­mance in Wednes­day night’s debate in Las Vegas came too late to pull her out of the slump her cam­paign is cur­rent­ly experiencing.

Neva­da is the third dis­ap­point­ment in a row for War­ren, and comes in spite of her cam­paign invest­ing sig­nif­i­cant resources in the state.

Warren’s path to the nom­i­na­tion is becom­ing more and more dif­fi­cult – she is not expect­ed to do well in this Saturday’s pri­ma­ry in South Car­oli­na, and a recent poll sug­gest­ed that she may not even win her home state of Mass­a­chu­setts (which votes on March 3rd, also known as Super Tuesday).

At first glance, Cal­i­forn­ian bil­lion­aire and activist Tom Stey­er has rea­son to be pleased by the result in Neva­da – he placed among the top five, the first time he has done so. How­ev­er, Stey­er has plunged a stag­ger­ing quan­ti­ty of cash (over $16 mil­lion) into adver­tis­ing in Neva­da; more than the rest of the field com­bined, and six times as much as Bernie Sanders. If all that mon­ey can only buy a man 5%, it is hard to see why Stey­er is even still both­er­ing to con­tin­ue his run.

Sen­a­tor Amy Klobuchar’s Neva­da result was an unde­ni­able flop – espe­cial­ly com­ing off of a sur­prise third place in New Hamp­shire – but it was lit­tle sur­prise. Klobuchar has so far failed to con­nect to Lati­no vot­ers, a sig­nif­i­cant part of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic elec­torate in Neva­da (her trade­mark jokes appar­ent­ly don’t trans­late well into Span­ish, or even Spang­lish) and her cam­paign team strug­gled to fill even basic posi­tions, mak­ing the result some­what of a fore­gone con­clu­sion for her.

As well as solid­i­fy­ing Sanders’ posi­tion at the front of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pack, Neva­da offers some insight for Democ­rats look­ing for­ward to the gen­er­al election.

If Sanders wins the nom­i­na­tion (which now seems increas­ing­ly like­ly) and goes up against Trump, his strat­e­gy in Neva­da will help him in November.

Sanders volunteers attend a rally in Las Vegas

Sanders vol­un­teers attend a ral­ly in Las Vegas (Pho­to: Gage Skid­more, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

Democ­rats have his­tor­i­cal­ly relied on high vot­er turnout to car­ry them to the White House, and the Neva­da cau­cus­es saw a mas­sive increase in vot­er turnout com­pared to 2016. This turnout was dri­ven large­ly by pro-Sanders activists among the Lati­no com­mu­ni­ty, a vital con­stituen­cy for Democ­rats in bor­der states such as Texas and Ari­zona that vot­ed for Trump in 2016.

The fact that Sanders has so far been able to out-per­­form bil­lion­aire-backed can­di­dates (and actu­al bil­lion­aires) also bodes well for November.

Trump is a walk­ing fundrais­ing machine (thanks to his poli­cies that almost exclu­sive­ly ben­e­fit racist old bil­lion­aires) and has an effi­cient adver­tis­ing machine, but Sanders has so far defied the nor­mal finan­cial rules of pol­i­tics, break­ing small-donor dona­tion records and using social media and his grass­roots sup­port in ways that are both cheap and high­ly effec­tive at win­ning over skeptics.

Fur­ther­more, the fact that Sanders man­aged to win over work­ers despite major union oppo­si­tion shows that his poli­cies such as Medicare For All and the Green New Deal are not – as some right-lean­ing Democ­rats would have you believe – “too rad­i­cal” for the work­ing-class vot­ers whose votes (par­tic­u­lar­ly in Penn­syl­va­nia, Michi­gan and Wis­con­sin) ulti­mate­ly decid­ed the 2016 elec­tion, but are capa­ble of win­ning back Oba­­ma-Trump vot­ers to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic cause.

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