LAS VEGAS — After Bernie Sanders cemented his standing as the undisputed frontrunner in the Democratic presidential primary with a resounding win in the Nevada caucuses Saturday, his rivals for the nomination were left to explain to their supporters how they could stop him.
Incomplete results showed Sanders with a better than two-to-one margin over Joe Biden, with Pete Buttigieg close behind in third place, followed by Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar.
“You all did it for me!” Biden told approximately 300 of his supporters at his caucus-night party at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union hall in Las Vegas. “Now we’re going to go on to South Carolina.”
Joined onstage with his wife, Jill, Biden said Saturday’s second-place finish would catapult him back into contention after disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire.
“The press is ready to declare people dead quickly, but we’re going to come back and we’re going to win,” Biden said, adding that his campaign was now “in a position” to do just that.
Yet Biden also seemed to acknowledge that the task ahead wouldn’t be easy. “We’re in a spot now where we just have to keep moving.”
Shortly before the caucuses began on Saturday, Elizabeth Warren surprised her volunteers at Coronado High School in suburban Henderson with two boxes of Dunkin’ Donuts, a favorite from her home state of Massachusetts.
“This is my first election!” one supporter told Warren as an impromptu selfie line began to form.
“Mine too!” Warren said, before issuing a quick correction. “For president.”
But after briefly addressing the crowd inside the school, Warren made a beeline for a waiting minivan, along with her husband, Bruce Mann. When a reporter tried to ask how she was feeling, the senator brushed the question aside. “Always feels good,” Warren replied. Then, as if to say “No more questions,” she ran the rest of way to the van, left Nevada and took a flight to a rally in Seattle, in Washington — a state that doesn’t vote until March 10.
Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg was scheduled to attend a caucus-day watch party in Las Vegas on Saturday afternoon before results were announced. He intended to move on to Colorado on Saturday evening before traveling to Virginia, which is a Super Tuesday state. Buttigieg is going to South Carolina next week.
As the results became apparent on Saturday, Buttigieg’s team announced that they were tracking the caucus results on their own. An aide to Buttigieg said, after reviewing their internal numbers from 38 percent of the precincts, that the former mayor was coming in second to Sanders.
“With actual tally sheets that we’ve transcribed … we see Bernie with a solid lead, but we are currently in second place,” the aide said.
The situation was reminiscent of the Iowa caucus on Feb. 3, when both Buttigieg and Sanders declared victory based on internal data. That result is still in dispute.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar also didn’t stick around in Nevada, instead addressing her supporters in her home city of Minneapolis. “As usual, we have exceeded expectations,” Klobuchar said. “A lot of people didn’t even think I’d still be standing.” She then said she would be traveling to South Carolina to campaign there.
Sanders, meanwhile, was focused on Super Tuesday and spoke to an enthusiastic rally in El Paso, Texas, before delivering a victory speech late in the day in San Antonio.
As Sanders supporters sipped beer at a victory party and cheered a TV feed of the senator’s speech, Dan O’Neal, the Arizona state coordinator for Progressive Democrats of America, said Nevada had finally proven how hard Sanders will be to stop.
“Now I’m optimistic that Bernie will go into the convention with an overwhelming plurality of the delegates,” O’Neal said. “Will it be the 1,991 we need? I don’t know. But the will of the people has to be taken into consideration. If the people want real, lasting change, that will has to be accepted. And Nevada was the first testing ground for that. It’s much more representative of the country as a whole than Iowa or New Hampshire — and Bernie won big.”
On a day marked by intermittent rain and unusually cold temperatures, Sanders’s supporters turned out in force, helping him win a plurality of caucus-goers, as Buttigieg, Biden and Klobuchar continued to split the moderate vote.
Sanders drew strength from the most diverse electorate yet to vote in the primary. Roughly 30 percent of the state is Hispanic, 10 percent is African-American, and Asian-Americans, the fastest growing population group, account for nearly 8 percent.
Hispanic voters strongly supported Sanders, according to entrance polls.
At the East Las Vegas Community Center in a Hispanic section of town dotted with Section 8 housing units and strip malls, many of those who showed up hours before the caucuses began at noon said they were there to support Bernie Sanders.
“It’s Bernie or bust,” said Michelle Diaz, 38, who showed up at 9 a.m.
“We need a pit bull, not a moderate,” Jennifer Lawson, 65, told Yahoo News. “There’s nothing moderate about what Trump is doing. I don’t want a moderate, and if you haven’t made up your mind at this point with what’s going on, I feel for you. My husband is being told to ‘go back to Mexico,’ and he’s not from Mexico, he’s from here. Bernie, I see him as a pit bull. I don’t think he’ll bring roses to a street fight; he’ll bring gloves.”
First-time caucus-goer Eugenia Cooper, 36, said she was supporting Sanders because of his support for Medicare for All. “I was born in England where they have national health care. We need that,” she said.
While a repeat of the counting problems that marred the Iowa caucuses was feared in Nevada, the day was largely free of serious mishaps.
Precinct volunteer Jeff Culler told Yahoo News that he thought the Nevada caucuses would be drama-free.
“I think this is going to be anticlimactic today. I think it’s going to go very smoothly,” Culler said before the caucuses began.
Behind him, a row of iPads was laid out on a stage, an unopened deck of cards atop each one.
“When I open the iPad and it has my early vote totals, that’s when I’ll know that they’ve been transferred. I trust that they have,” Culler said.
But as Culler powered up the iPad for the first time, a confused look overtook his face. The program was asking him to input his own totals first, so he couldn’t be sure that the early vote numbers had been loaded yet.
“The worst-case scenario today is something happens with the tech. The results might be slow in reporting, but the integrity of the results won’t be affected,” Culler said.
The race now heads to South Carolina’s first-in-the-South primary next Saturday, followed by the Super Tuesday slate of contests on March 3, when 15 states hold primaries.
At the Biden event, Will Elander, an 18-year-old volunteer for the campaign, chose to look at the bright side of Saturday’s results and the road ahead for the former vice president.
“If you look back at Iowa and compare that to how this is going so far, I’m only optimistic,” Elander said.
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