6 takeaways from the Nevada caucuses as Bernie Sanders wins big

Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders won Nevada’s Democratic presidential caucuses on Saturday.
(Getty Images)

Well, at least the votes seemed to be counted properly this time.

Democrats were able to breathe a big sigh of relief after Nevada competently pulled off a caucus. It is more than they can say for Iowa. Worries abounded up to election day that there would be a repeat of the chaos in the Hawkeye State — especially after Nevadans were all lined up to use the same disastrous app to report voting results. The app was scrapped, voting officials were retrained, and everyone crossed their fingers.

While voting worked, the actual votes didn’t do a whole lot to settle this presidential primary field. There is still Bernie Sanders versus a big muddle of other candidates heading toward the next stop, South Carolina. Voters in the middle are fast running out of time to rally around a candidate who can compete with the democratic socialist in the race for delegates. Here are some takeaways from election day:

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Sanders barrels through

Bernie Sanders gained momentum in his march toward the nomination with his strong finish in Nevada.

He did it after hitting his biggest headwinds yet in Nevada. The highly influential Culinary Workers Union put considerable effort into trying to undermine his bid there. The union worries that the “Medicare for all” plan promoted by the Vermont senator would cost members the generous healthcare benefits they have fought hard to win.

Yet the union found itself confronting the same reality as all the other forces fighting to tame the Sanders momentum nationwide: There is no consensus alternative on the ticket. Culinary workers who cast ballots for Sanders rivals split the opposition vote among the many other candidates. Sanders consolidated the left, as he has in other states so far, and once again cruised to victory.

The win in Nevada further clears the path for Sanders toward the nomination. That is not to say most Democratic voters are all-in on his plans to massively expand government. But the longer those uncomfortable with the Sanders agenda fail to coalesce around a rival who can be a counterweight on the ballot, the less time centrists have to amass the delegates they need to capture the nomination. The clock is ticking. Super Tuesday is less than two weeks away, and Sanders is heading into it stronger than anyone else in the field.

Biden ambles on

Joe Biden hobbled into Nevada after dismal showings in Iowa and New Hampshire. He insisted his candidacy would come back to life once the more racially diverse states of Nevada and South Carolina have their say.

Yet voters have now had their say in one of those states, and the former vice president still has no wins. The candidate who entered the race as an 800-pound gorilla lately shows more like an aimless puppy. It is still too soon to count him out. But after losing an enormous amount of support from African Americans — the voters who were supposed to bolster Biden’s “firewall” in the South — the thing that seems to be propelling him most now is uneasiness with the alternatives.


Former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s dismal week may have created a lifeline of sorts for the Biden candidacy. But the former vice president has to clean up in South Carolina on Feb. 29 and notch some big wins on Super Tuesday to stay viable — and those are tall orders for this struggling campaign.

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Warren can’t break her funk

For the 19.7 million Americans who watched the presidential debate on Wednesday, the ho-hum showing in Nevada for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren may seem surprising. Warren was on fire Wednesday night. She burned down any aura of inevitability around the candidacy of rival Bloomberg, exposing the billionaire as a flawed candidate once the armor of his relentless television and digital advertising is pierced.

Yet the results in Nevada reveal, yet again, how any path to the nomination is rapidly closing off for the senator. Warren has spent much of the race pivoting. She pivoted hard toward winning over the most progressive wing of the party at first. But she couldn’t out-progressive Sanders. So she moved to be the candidate who could bridge progressive policy with a pragmatic approach. But that is a crowded space, and her embrace of Medicare for all, while not unflinching enough for the left, still proved too hard to stomach for many moderates. So Warren headed into Nevada full of energy, but without any clear constituency.

The electoral math is looking increasingly tough for the senator.

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Money can only buy so much love

California billionaire Tom Steyer spent 10 times more on advertising in Nevada than any other candidate. He spent more time there than any other candidate. The idea was to come out of that state with a big bounce that propelled him into serious contention.

That didn’t quite happen. The billionaire has struggled to distinguish himself in this race. His national polling wasn’t even strong enough to qualify him for the debate stage in Nevada, one of two states where Steyer had placed big bets. His huge bank account probably means he can stay in the race as long as he wants, but it doesn’t mean he will win any relevant number of delegates.

Big test for Buttigieg ahead

Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., proved on Saturday that his appeal extends beyond just states that are overwhelmingly white.

But a bigger test for the 38-year-old is when South Carolina votes next week. He has struggled to make inroads with African American voters. Their support is crucial to winning the nomination, and in South Carolina they make up nearly two-thirds of Democratic primary voters.

Bloomberg’s very bad week

Centrists growing alarmed that nobody in the field is emerging to stand in the path of Sanders had begun to put stock in Bloomberg’s late entry bid. He has now spent more than half a billion dollars since late November, propelling a rapid ascent in the polls.

Nevada gave many Democrats pause about Bloomberg. Not because of how voters weighed in — the billionaire opted not to compete there or in the three other states voting before Super Tuesday. Yet his polling surge qualified him for the debate. Bloomberg did himself no favors on the debate stage. In fact, he bombed.

He was pummeled for refusing to release women who have sued his company for harassment and discrimination from secrecy agreements the company insisted they sign. His defense of these agreements created a portrait of a candidate out of step with the #MeToo movement. He struggled to explain his championing of a policing policy that he himself admitted as recently as 2015 was rooted in “throwing” young minorities against walls and frisking them.

By the end of the week, Bloomberg was announcing that he would release a select few of the women who sued his company from their nondisclosure agreements. Rivals pounced again: Why not all of them?

Bloomberg will try to redeem himself at the Charleston debate on Tuesday. But while he may hope that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, the primary debate in which he cratered had a large TV audience. More people saw it than watched the Grammys.

Times staff writer Michael Finnegan contributed to this report.

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