Sanders Projected To Win Nevada Caucuses, Solidifying Front-Runner Status

Feb 22, 2020
Originally published on February 23, 2020 11:12 am

Updated at 8:48 p.m. ET

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has won the Nevada caucuses, according to an Associated Press projection.

The win gives Sanders victories in two of the first three states to weigh in on the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. His other win was in New Hampshire, and he also ended in a near-tie atop the still-muddled Iowa caucuses.


"In Nevada, we have just put together a multigenerational, multiracial coalition, which is going to not only win in Nevada, it's going to sweep this country," Sanders boasted at a rally in San Antonio, Texas, shortly after news outlets reported his caucus win.

Sanders now has the clear momentum, and an inside edge among the crowded field of candidates, going into a critical stretch where the bulk of delegates will be awarded. It's a remarkable position for a longtime political outsider who still has not officially joined the Democratic Party.

At a different campaign event in Texas earlier in the day, Sanders made a point to respond to critics of the central policy proposal driving his candidacy — "Medicare for All."

"The idea of universal health care is not a radical idea!" Sanders insisted.

Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., congratulated Sanders on his win on Saturday but warned Democrats at an event in Las Vegas about what Sanders' candidacy could mean for the party's prospects in congressional races.

"The only way to truly deliver any of the progressive changes we care about is to be a nominee who actually gives a damn about the effect you are having from the top of the ticket" on House and Senate candidates who can enact policy changes on health care and immigration, he said.

Buttigieg finished second to Sanders in the New Hampshire primary and virtually tied him in Iowa, where the caucus results are still not final.

"We can prioritize 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 argued.

While Sanders will head to events in South Carolina, which holds its primary next Saturday, his campaign is more focused on Super Tuesday (March 3), as evidenced by the fact that Sanders spent more time campaigning in California and Texas than in Nevada in recent days.

The campaign is betting that the momentum earned by its sustained stretch of early victories, combined with its massive financial war chest funded by small-dollar donations, will give Sanders the edge on a day when about a third of all delegates will be awarded.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, speaking to supporters in Nevada before Sanders was projected as the winner Saturday evening, proclaimed he still had time to shake up the primary race with a win in the next contest. Early results showed him running a distant second to Sanders.

"The press is ready to declare people dead quickly, but we're alive and we're coming back and we're going to win," Biden said, adding, "We're going to win in South Carolina. Then Super Tuesday, and we are on our way."

Nina Turner, Sanders' national co-chair, told NPR that the campaign wasn't ceding the next primary to any other candidate.

"We're running in South Carolina to win," she said.

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Bernie Sanders is the candidate to beat in the Democratic presidential primary. Not all the precincts have reported yet, but the consensus is clear. It was Bernie's big night in Nevada.


BERNIE SANDERS: In Nevada, we have just put together a multigenerational, multiracial coalition which is going to not only win in Nevada; it's going to sweep this country.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This means Sanders has now won two of the first three contests. He was also in a virtual tie for first in Iowa with Pete Buttigieg. But the Sanders campaign is clearly looking ahead to the bigger delegate-rich states voting soon.

NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow joins us now from Reno. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. The Sanders campaign was expecting a win here, and that's what they got. They worked hard in Nevada, especially with Latinos. In terms of how they won, is this the performance his campaign was hoping for?

DETROW: Oh, exactly what they wanted. There's been so much conversation about how Sanders was winning but with a quarter of the vote and benefiting from a crowded field. He has close to doubled that support in Nevada at about 46% right now with half of precincts reporting, so far ahead of anybody else. And beyond that, he won in a lot of demographic groups. According to entrance polls, he won with women, men, college graduates, non-college graduates. He did exceptionally well with Latino voters compared to the other candidates. And in Nevada, at least, Sanders suddenly has the makings of a candidate who can put together a broad coalition, at least on the Democratic side.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: After this strong showing, a couple of Sanders' Democratic rivals went after him in their speeches. The moderates are clearly trying to stop this train.

DETROW: Yeah. Joe Biden, the former vice president who came in second with about a little less than 20% of the vote in the caucuses - he said he's not a socialist, not a plutocrat. He's a Democrat and proud of it, hitting Sanders and Buttigieg as well - rather, Michael Bloomberg as well. But Buttigieg was notable. He was pretty harsh in his concerns about Bernie Sanders that he laid out last night.


PETE BUTTIGIEG: I believe the only way to truly deliver any of the progressive changes that we care about is to be a nominee who actually gives a damn about the effect you are having from the top of the ticket on those critical frontline House and Senate Democrats that we need to win.

DETROW: And Buttigieg is referring to something that a lot of party leaders are worried about - that Bernie Sanders is a democratic socialist, could really undo a lot of the gains the party has made in the suburbs, which are, of course, where the party won back control of the House of Representatives. So after those criticisms, it was notable to me that Sanders takes the stage in Texas and gives what would sound a lot like a possible general election message against President Trump.


SANDERS: We are going to win here in Texas. We are going to...


SANDERS: We are going to win across the country because the American people are sick and tired of a president who lies all of the time.


DETROW: With the case there that he could build a much broader coalition than the president in the fall.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Interesting that Sanders was already in Texas there. What does that tell you, just briefly, about his strategy going forward?

DETROW: The big focus for the Sanders campaign is March 3, when a third of delegates are at stake. They will be competing in South Carolina. They say they're going to try and win. But it was notable that this week, he spent a lot of time in California and Texas, the two biggest delegate prizes. The campaign's goal, according to the campaign manager - open up a lead on March 3; never give it back. And the fact that there wasn't much clarity with the rest of the field in Nevada helps Sanders. Biden and Buttigieg are still fighting for the same voters.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that's NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow. Thanks so much.

DETROW: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.