By winning a solid victory in the Nevada Democratic caucuses Saturday, Hillary Clinton has righted her faltering campaign and heads into her party’s primary in South Carolina next Saturday with crucial momentum.
Mrs. Clinton’s blowout loss to Bernie Sanders in the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9 had raised questions about the “enthusiasm gap” she suffers against Senator Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, and his legions of youthful supporters. Now she heads into South Carolina with the legitimacy conferred by a solid victory in Nevada, even if by just a few percentage points.
At time of writing, with 85 percent of precincts reporting, Clinton led Sanders by about five percentage points, 52.5 percent to 47.4 percent.
“Hillary Clinton has dealt a body blow to the rebellion in this party,” said Van Jones, a former adviser to President Obama, on CNN. “Bernie Sanders has to go back to the drawing board.”
Clinton won big among older women and African Americans in Nevada, while Sanders won big among men and young voters, according to entrance polls. Sanders also won the Hispanic vote, by eight points, though the Clinton campaign disputes that figure. About 39 percent of Nevada voters are people of color.
The entrance polls also showed the importance of organization, and the unreliability of young voters in their ability or willingness to turn out. Some two-thirds of Nevada caucus-goers were age 45 or older, and Clinton won two-thirds of that cohort. Sanders won seven in 10 caucus-goers under age 45.
In her victory speech, Clinton mentioned Sanders only once – in the beginning, when she congratulated him on a hard-fought race. But Sanders’s influence was unmistakable.
“Americans are right to be angry, but we're also hungry for real solutions,” she said, reaching out to Sanders supporters.
“Wall Street can never be allowed to threaten Main Street again,” Clinton added. She spoke of “the voices of Flint and Ferguson,” references to the lead-contaminated water in majority-black Flint, Mich., and the fatal shooting in 2014 of an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Mo., by a white police officer.
Sanders, in his remarks to supporters, noted that just five weeks ago, he was 25 points behind Clinton and wound up close, after getting a late start. Clinton set up shop in Nevada in April 2015, while Sanders didn’t get organized there until October.
"What this entire campaign has been about is the issue of momentum, is the issue of bringing more and more people into the political process," he said.
Sanders is likely to end up with almost as many convention delegates from Nevada as Clinton.
The entrance polls showed another dimension of Clinton’s vulnerability that could hurt her in the general election, if she’s the Democratic nominee: voter skepticism of her character, even among members of her own party.
Nevada caucus-goers who valued honesty, trustworthiness, and having a candidate who cares about people like them supported Sanders overwhelmingly. Clinton won big among voters who valued electability and experience.