Nevada caucus strengthens Bernie Sanders' status as Democratic front-runner

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has cemented his front-runner status in the race to choose the Democratic nominee who will face President Donald Trump in November's presidential election.

Sanders is projected to win the Nevada caucuses by a wide margin.

The Vermont senator gave a victory speech at Cowboys Dancehall in San Antonio, Texas, on Saturday evening.

"In Nevada we have just put together a multi-generational, multi-racial coalition, which is not only going to win in Nevada, it's going to sweep this country," Sanders told his cheering supporters. 

He said that he is feeling confident about his chances in Texas too – one of the 14 states that votes on Super Tuesday, which will fall on March 3. 

The win in Nevada will further boost the front-running candidacy of Sanders after his strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire earlier this month.

 

Biden in second place

Sanders had 46% of the county convention delegates in Nevada with about 60% of the precincts reporting.

Biden was a distant second to Sanders with 19.6% but ahead of former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, in third place with 15.3%.

"The press is ready to declare people dead quickly, but we’re alive and we’re coming back and we’re gonna win," Biden told supporters in Las Vegas.

The two female US senators in the running, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, trailed behind, with Warren winning 10.1% and Klobuchar matching billionaire Tom Steyer's 4%. 

Warren, speaking late Saturday at a large rally in Washington state – which votes on March 10 – pledged to stay in the fight despite a third straight mediocre showing.

She repeated her attacks on Bloomberg, accusing him of seeking to "buy this election".

Buttigieg goes after Sanders

Buttigieg cautioned Democrats about nominating Sanders, a self-identified Democratic Socialist that he portrayed as an ideologue.

"We can prioritise either ideological purity or inclusive victory. We can either call people names online or we can call them into our movement. We can either tighten a narrow and hardcore base or open the tent to a new, broad, big-hearted American coalition," Buttigieg told supporters in Las Vegas.

Latino voters support Sanders

In Nevada, Latinos make up about 19 percent of eligible voters. Entrance polls showed that just over half of them backed Sanders, or “Tio Bernie” as he has been nicknamed. 

Sanders’ progressive policy platform speaks to Latinos’ core interests: Medicare for all, a $15 minimum wage, immigration reform and the elimination of student debt.

Sanders wins largest share of union vote

In the final result of a caucus at the famed Bellagio hotel on the Las Vegas strip, Sanders finished with 76 votes and Biden with 45. No other candidate ended with a vote.

Workers at the Bellagio, who are members of the Culinary Workers Union, streamed out of the caucus after backing Sanders despite their leadership expressing reservations about his healthcare plan.

"I went for Bernie. I'm not big into politics, but I like the things he's going for: student loan debt, schools, free healthcare," said Aleiza Smith, 22, a housekeeper at the Bellagio.

Larger turnout than for Obama in 2008?

Four days of early voting in Nevada this week drew more than 75,000 Democrats, more than half first-time voters, putting the party in position to surpass the turnout record of 118,000 in 2008, when Barack Obama's candidacy electrified the party.

But those early votes had to be counted along with those cast on Saturday, complicating the process.

Bloomberg looms in race

Biden is counting on a strong showing in South Carolina, which has a large bloc of black voters, while the Super Tuesday states will bring former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg – who has not been competing in the four early voting states but has been rising in polls – into the race.

"The Nevada results reinforce the reality that this fragmented field is putting Bernie Sanders on pace to amass an insurmountable delegate lead," Bloomberg campaign manager Kevin Sheekey said in a statement.

On Twitter, Trump appeared to be enjoying the Democratic race.

"Looks like Crazy Bernie is doing well in the Great State of Nevada. Biden & the rest look weak, & no way Mini Mike can restart his campaign after the worst debate performance in history of Presidential Debates. Congratulations Bernie, & don’t let them take it away from you!" Trump wrote, using the moniker "Mini Mike" as a reference to Bloomberg.

Nevada caucus officials and voters at multiple sites on Saturday reported voting rules confusion, calculation glitches and delays in reporting tallies – despite efforts to avoid the issues that plagued Iowa's caucuses earlier this month.

The third state on the primary calendar was the first to reflect the kind of diverse electorate that will vote across 14 states on Super Tuesday. 

If Sanders comes out of Super Tuesday with a sizable delegate lead, it will become very difficult for any of the other candidates to catch up.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)