Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) scored a landslide victory at the Nevada caucuses on Feb. 22, defeating a field of five rivals and raising the possibility of a socialist front runner in the race to face President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
Sanders won more than half the popular vote and 46 percent of the vote with 60 percent of the precincts reporting as of 2 p.m. on Feb. 23. Former vice president Joe Biden, who had led the Democratic field in national polling for over a year before plunging late last month, held a distant second place with 19.6 percent of the vote.
Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, added uncertainty to the race by defeating even the opponents who had shifted their policy proposals as far left as his own socialist agenda. Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) trailed in third and fourth place with 15.3 percent and 10.1 percent, respectively.
With the consequential Super Tuesday coming up on March 3, the results from Nevada solidify Sanders as the front runner after he won the popular votes in both New Hampshire and Iowa. In terms of delegates to be sent to the national convention, Sanders tied with Buttigieg in New Hampshire and lost by one delegate in Iowa. More than a third of all the delegates for the Democratic National Convention will be determined on Super Tuesday.
“First we won the popular vote in Iowa. Then we won the New Hampshire primary. And now we have won the Nevada caucus,” Sanders wrote on Twitter after the results were called. “Let’s go forward together and win it all.”
Sanders, a self-described socialist who once honeymooned in the Soviet Union, is running on a far-left agenda. His Medicare for All and Green New Deal policies would cost American taxpayers up to $93 trillion over the course of a decade, according to estimates by the American Action Forum.
In Nevada, Sanders proved his strength with a broad coalition that included Latino voters, union members, and African Americans. The results are significant for Super Tuesday, when the biggest delegate counts are to be won in California and Texas, which are demographically similar to Nevada.
In terms of funding, Sanders holds a major advantage over all candidates except billionaire Michael Bloomberg.
Buttigieg, who shared front-runner status with Sanders until the Nevada caucuses, attacked the Vermont senator and positioned himself as the only viable choice.
“Sen. Sanders believes in an inflexible, ideological revolution that leaves out most Democrats, not to mention most Americans,” Buttigieg told supporters.
“Sen. Sanders sees capitalism as the root of all evil. He’d go beyond reform and reorder the economy in ways most Democrats—let alone most Americans—don’t support.”
Nevada proved to be a major disappointment for Biden, who is now counting on the South Carolina primary on Feb. 29 to reestablish himself before Super Tuesday. Biden was in third place in both Iowa and New Hampshire, far behind Sanders and Buttigieg.
“We’re alive and coming back, and we’re gonna win,” Biden told supporters in Las Vegas.
Biden is counting on his support among South Carolina’s black voters, who could make up as much as two-thirds of the electorate in the state.
Facing a dual threat from Sanders and Bloomberg, Biden tried out a new rallying cry in Las Vegas: “I ain’t a socialist. I ain’t a plutocrat. I’m a Democrat. And I’m proud of it.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who produced one of the few surprises of the race when she surged to a third-place finish in New Hampshire, announced that she had raised more than $12 million, and vowed to prove her doubters wrong.
Her momentum, however, proved to be short-lived. She finished well behind the leading candidates, and in the process, prompted questions about her viability.
But in a speech to supporters in her home state of Minnesota, she was defiant and said she would continue, and even touted the fact that Trump mentioned her at a rally. “By the way, for the first time ever, he mentioned me at a rally,” she said. “You know I’ve arrived now. You know they must be worried.”
Time is running out for candidates who haven’t finished higher than third in any contest. That also applies to Warren, who at this point desperately needs a win. Her strong debate performance came after much of the state had already cast early votes.
Tom Steyer, the billionaire who made his fortune running a hedge fund, bet heavily on Nevada, with more than $12 million on advertising, and lost big, finishing sixth. Steyer has made strong appeals to minority voters, but in Nevada, failed decisively.
But Steyer’s impact on the race could come next week in South Carolina, where he has spent even more money. Polls show that he has made significant inroads with African American voters. That wouldn’t be good news for Biden, who is counting on those votes to resuscitate his campaign.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.