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)

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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