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Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders continued his run of success in the Democratic primary, winning the Nevada caucuses by a commanding margin. Nevada marked the third victory in a streak for Sanders after he notched popular vote wins in Iowa and New Hampshire and put him ahead in the delegate count, which in the eyes of many experts makes him the unstoppable frontrunner.
Why there’s debate
Some pundits already project Sanders will win the Democratic nomination, saying that while he commands the more progressive voter bloc, his rise is due at least in part to the large swath of moderate voters that split across Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. Soon, Mike Bloomberg will be on the ballot and could further splinter that support.
The result in Nevada also bodes well for Sanders’s prospects on Super Tuesday, on March 3, when roughly 40 percent of delegates will be up for grabs. Half of all Latino voters in the state backed him, entrance polls show. If Sanders maintains that level of Latino support in California and Texas, he could come out of Super Tuesday with an insurmountable delegate lead.
Sanders’s rivals in the race are quick to point out that there is still a very long road ahead and fewer than 100 of the roughly 4,000 delegates have been awarded. It’s still possible for a single moderate candidate to emerge from the pack and pose a real challenge to Sanders going forward, they argue. It’s also possible that Sanders could carry a strong lead, but not a majority of delegates, into the Democratic convention in July. In that scenario, the delegates at the convention — perhaps unified by concerns that a democratic socialist can’t beat Donald Trump — could throw their support behind someone else and deny Sanders the nomination.
Next up on the primary calendar is South Carolina on Saturday, a state once seen as a runaway win for Joe Biden. But Sanders has closed the gap in polling there. Super Tuesday is March 3.
His competition is too fractured to compete
“The rest of the field is splintered and shows no signs of going anywhere before Super Tuesday, making it more likely that Sanders will be the only candidate to consistently cross the 15 percent threshold needed to win delegates in upcoming contests.” — Alex Seitz-Wald, NBC News
Latino support will give him an even bigger lead
“Sanders’s growing strength with Latinos hasn’t made much of a dent in the delegate math. But that’s about to change on Super Tuesday. ... The calendar, in other words, is about to heavily favor the candidate who’s leading among Latinos. Mathematically, it could even make that candidate unstoppable.” — Hunter Walker and Andrew Romano, Yahoo News
Taking the nomination away at the convention is too politically risky
“Even if there’s somebody else who is in theory a safer bet, in practice, we’ve reached the point at which Democrats may be taking an even greater risk by handing somebody else the nomination and alienating Sanders supporters.” — Philip Klein, Washington Examiner
The rules of the primary make it hard to make a comeback
“If Sanders gets a delegate lead, Democrats’ proportional allotment of delegates could make it difficult for others to catch him. ... If Sanders wins California by 8 to 10 percentage points, he could net 100 more delegates than others get. Overcoming such an advantage would require another candidate not just beating him in other states but doing so with a large majority.” — Maureen Groppe, USA Today
Big-money opposition could backfire
“A well-funded super PAC attacking Sanders could just motivate his devoted base even further, boosting Sanders and alienating those voters from the rest of the Democratic Party.” — Maggie Severns, Politico
His dedicated supporters aren’t going to abandon him
“Sanders has built a political movement that might make any kind of maneuvering aimed at denying him the nomination irrelevant.” — Tim Murphy, Mother Jones
Sanders Can Be Beat
A single moderate candidate could challenge him
The dynamic of the remainder of the race is now totally clear: There is Sanders and then there is the scramble among all of the other candidates to be the anti- or alterna-Sanders.” — Chris Cillizza, CNN
Sanders has the advantage, but there’s still a long way to go
“Nobody can be sure how the primary will go. A Democratic version of Trump’s long, slow bludgeoning of the party elite is certainly one very possible outcome. It is not destiny.” — Jonathan Chait, New York magazine
Powerful Democratic party figures could sway public opinion
“Imagine the consolidation pressure if an Obama or Clinton came out for Pete or Joe or Amy in the way Ted Kennedy did for Obama in 2008. That would be the type of event that could legitimately change the balance of the race. If it happened soon.” — Tim Miller, Bulwark
Bloomberg could turn his massive spending toward anti-Sanders ads
“Of all the other Democratic candidates, Bloomberg may be the only one who can stop the Sanders freight train and still have a shot at winning the White House. ... If Bloomberg has any chance of winning the nomination, he has to redirect his resources during the primary and run ads against Sanders — not Trump.” — Joe Lockhart, CNN
Sanders could lose the nomination at a contested convention
“There’s one last, unusual scenario under which party leaders could exert some influence: delegate-swapping. If no one amasses a majority of delegates during the primaries, several candidates could try to cut bargains before the Democratic convention in Milwaukee in mid-July.” — Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times
He may struggle outside of California and Texas on Super Tuesday
“It remains hard to imagine him coming away with the plurality of the pledged delegates on Super Tuesday unless he is able to miraculously improve his showing across the South this cycle.” — Lara M. Brown, The Hill
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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx via AP)