Bernie Sanders won big on Saturday and is now the clear front-runner to be the Democratic candidate at the November US presidential election.
Former vice-president Joe Biden – once favourite to win the selection – saved enough face to march on to his must-win in South Carolina in a week.
Pete Buttigieg finished in the top tier again and embraced the urgency of knocking down a rising Mr Sanders, though it is not clear where he wins next. And Elizabeth Warren is awash in cash after her debate dismantling of Michael Bloomberg – $9 million in three days – but the performance did not nudge her up in the standings in Nevada.
Here are five takeaways from Saturday’s results and what they’ll mean for the rest of the Democratic primary:
Sanders has taken command of the race
Mr Sanders did not just win Nevada. Entrance polls show he dominated.
Those polls showed Mr Sanders winning men and women; whites and Latinos; voters in all but the oldest age group (17-29, 30-44 and 45-64); those with college degrees and those without. He was carrying union households and non-union households, self-identified liberal Democrats (by a wide margin) and moderate and conservative ones (narrowly).
“Welcome to the revolution,” said Waleed Shahid, a spokesman for Justice Democrats, a progressive group.
The Sanders victory was built on three distinct and yet overlapping bases of support: young people (56 per cent support among those 44 and under), very liberal voters (49 per cent) and a majority of Hispanic voters.
The latter was a new factor in Nevada after two heavily white opening states, Iowa and New Hampshire. It is also particularly important as the race expands to big and diverse states on Super Tuesday with large Latino populations – none more significant than California and Texas.
Mr Sanders has now won the most votes in each of the first three states (Mr Buttigieg appears to have edged him in delegates in the still-disputed Iowa results) and has more momentum than all his rivals and more money than everyone besides the two self-funding billionaires, Tom Steyer and Mr Bloomberg.
- Want to know more about each Democrat in the race? Read this
It was no accident that Mr Sanders spent much of the day before the Nevada caucuses in California and had two rallies in Texas on Saturday: He campaign is looking ahead to Super Tuesday, March 3, as the day he breaks away from the rest of the Democratic field.
Speaking of which …
The rest of the field isn’t shrinking
Not long after the first results began rolling in, supporters of Mr Buttigieg announced they would buy TV ads in Super Tuesday states.
Mr Biden’s campaign manager declared “the Biden comeback” had just begun. Amy Klobuchar dropped from her New Hampshire showing yet claimed to have “exceeded expectations.” And Ms Warren’s campaign manager said her performance at last week’s debate would prove more important than the actual election.
Translation: No one is about to quit this race.
The longer all the alternative candidates remain, the longer Mr Sanders can keep carrying states and consolidating his own coalition without a singular rival.
“The Nevada results reinforce the reality that this fragmented field is putting Bernie Sanders on pace to amass an insurmountable delegate lead,” said Kevin Sheekey, the campaign manager for Mr Bloomberg.
Each has their own arguments for staying.
Mr Biden, who carried black voters in Nevada, is the best positioned to beat Mr Sanders in an upcoming state (South Carolina). Mr Buttigieg has had the strongest showings overall besides Mr Sanders.
Ms Warren, whose campaign announced a $21 million haul for February, argues she has the money and organisation to compete. Mr Bloomberg has his billions. Ms Klobuchar’s path – which is taking her to Fargo, North Dakota, on Sunday – seems less clear and may be more about grabbing spare delegates than the nomination.
The collective impact is clear. A remarkable six candidates all had at least 12 per cent of the vote among voters over 45 in Nevada, an almost impossibly even level of fracture.
Biden’s best finish yet is still second place
The Biden case for the nomination has been straightforward: He’s the guy to beat President Donald Trump. Yet for the third time in three races, Mr Biden did not win. He did improve from his bad fourth-place finish in Iowa and his disastrous fifth in New Hampshire (as of late Saturday, US time, both Mr Buttigieg and Mr Biden were claiming second as Nevada sloooowly processed results).
But throughout February, Mr Biden had said his fortunes would be reversed as more diverse states voted. Except it was Mr Sanders who soundly defeated MR Biden among Latino voters, according to entrance polls, while Mr Biden’s lead among African Americans – his strongest base – continued to shrink to 12 percentage points.
“Y’all did it for me. Y’all did it,” Mr Biden nonetheless told his supporters in Las Vegas.
He notably sharpened his contrast with Mr Sanders and Mr Bloomberg, who has vied to take over the moderate lane the former vice-president occupied for virtually all of 2019.
“I ain’t a socialist. I ain’t a plutocrat. I’m a Democrat,” he said. “And proud of it!”
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 the history of Presidential Debates. Congratulations Bernie, & don’t let them take it away from you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 22, 2020
Buttigieg wants to be the anti-Bernie
Of all the victory and concession speeches on Saturday, Mr Buttigieg’s was the most revealing. He used the big platform not just to make the case for himself but to slash at Mr Sanders, whom he accused of pushing an “inflexible, ideological revolution that leaves out most Democrats, not to mention most Americans.”
He talked about the urgency of beating Mr Trump and the importance of nominating a Democrat who “actually gives a damn” about down-ballot races. Speaking on MSNBC, one of the campaign’s national chairs, Anthony Brown, called Mr Buttigieg the leader in the “non-revolutionary lane” of the primary, though the extent to which such a lane exists, it is more a tangled mess.
Going forward, the problem is that Mr Buttigieg’s early successes in Iowa, New Hampshire and, to a lesser extent, Nevada, have not yet lifted him nationally.
Among black voters, the Nevada entrance polls had him carrying a meagre 2 per cent. Advisers to his rivals and Democratic strategists who want to see Mr Sanders stopped have been frustrated with Mr Buttigieg’s campaign, arguing that while he has been relatively successful so far, he is in a demographic cul-de-sac.
But Mr Buttigieg has a compelling counterpoint, as he said pointedly in his speech: “Ours is the only campaign that has beaten Senator Sanders anywhere in the country this whole campaign cycle.”
After sizzling debate, Warren doesn’t get Nevada bump
If Wednesday’s debate performance was going to turn Ms Warren’s political fortunes, it did not do so fast enough for the Nevada caucuses.
The results trickling in delivered another round of frustration for a candidate who fell below expectations in both Iowa and New Hampshire and had her campaign manager, Roger Lau, arguing on Saturday that the days-old debate would prove more significant than the actual election.
“We believe the Nevada debate will have more impact on the structure of the race,” Mr Lau wrote on Twitter. He called the actual results a “lagging indicator” because so many votes – true – were cast before the debate.
The problem is that election results create their own new gravitational reality in politics and the race itself will be reset with the next debate on Tuesday. Then comes South Carolina, which was long seen as her weakest of the four early states. Then, suddenly, Super Tuesday, where Mr Sanders seems to be making a play for Warren’s home state of Massachusetts.
-The New York Times