The Nevada caucuses – the third vote of the 2020 Democratic nomination fight – are over.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was the big winner, claiming his second straight victory and heading into the South Carolina’s primary next Saturday with a considerable amount of momentum. It was a far tougher night for the like of Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) and Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota).
Below, an extended look at the best and worst from the day – and night – that was.
* Bernie Sanders: Yes, the Vermont democratic socialist was the favorite in Nevada going into the caucuses. But few people projected such a sweeping win – not only doubling the support of the second-place finisher, but doing so in ways (most notably his huge support among Latinos) that suggest he is on his way to building a national coalition. The dynamic of the race is now very simple: Sanders is the clear front-runner, and everyone else in the field is vying to be the Sanders alternative.
* Pete Buttigieg: The most important thing the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor did in Nevada was the speech he gave after it was clear Sanders was going to win. Buttigieg used the national spotlight to make a very savvy play to be the Sanders alternative. He savaged Sanders’ “inflexible, ideological revolution that leaves out most Democrats, not to mention most Americans” and decried the “tenor of combat, division and polarization” of the Sanders supporters. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a prominent Sanders backer, tweeted “dude, show some humility” to Buttigieg in the wake of the speech. Mission accomplished for Team Buttigieg.
* Joe Biden: After finishing fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire, the former vice president badly needed some good news. And Nevada gave him just enough of that to keep him going for another week, through the South Carolina primary. But there’s warning signs everywhere for Biden in the numbers; he got crushed by Sanders among Latinos, won black voters over Sanders by less than double-digits and played to a tie with Sanders among moderate voters. Biden desperately has to win South Carolina, and Sanders’ demonstrated strength across a broad coalition is very problematic there.
* Electability: Two thirds of Nevada caucus-goers said they would prefer a candidate who can beat President Donald Trump rather than someone who agrees with them on issues. That’s very similar to the number who opted for electability in Iowa and New Hampshire, and serves as yet another reminder of just how important beating the incumbent is for a broad swath of Democratic voters. Here’s the really interesting thing, though: Among those who said electability was most important, Sanders – yes, Sanders – was the leading candidate.
* Donald Trump: The rise of Sanders – and the considerable concern within elements of the Democratic Party about nominating a democratic socialist – means that this primary season is going to be very long and likely very nasty, as the party dukes it out over what its present and future should look like. All of that is great news for Trump, who continues to consolidate GOP support and whose campaign continues to stockpile cash. Plus, whether or not he is right, Trump quite clearly believes Sanders is his easiest general election opponent – and right now the Vermont senator is the favorite to be just that.
* Elizabeth Warren: The meteoric rise of Sanders is very bad news for Warren. While their coalitions are not exactly the same, both Sanders and Warren have spent the entire campaign trying to be the liberal choice. It now appears as though that debate is settled – and Warren lost. While Warren had a very strong debate earlier this week – and her campaign manager highlighted the fact that she improved her standing considerably between early voting and people who attended the caucus day of – she still hasn’t had a Top 2 showing. And looking at the calendar in the next few weeks, it’s not immediately obvious to me where she might get that sort of performance.
* Amy Klobuchar: The Minnesota senator surprised the political world in New Hampshire with a strong close that got her to third place. But the 10 days in between New Hampshire and Nevada clearly sapped Klobuchar of the momentum she had built. Her lackluster showing in Nevada will make it very difficult for Klobuchar to make any noise in South Carolina and that, in turn, will make her chances of winning delegates on Super Tuesday very, very long. It may well be time for Klobuchar to start rethinking whether she wants to remain in the race.
* Culinary Union: The most powerful union in the state decided not to endorse a candidate. But a flier it sent to its members attacking Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan, which would eliminate private health insurance entirely, became a major issue in the race as supporters of the Vermont senator attacked the union leadership. Sanders’ smashing victory – and the overwhelming support for the elimination of private health insurance among Nevada voters – amount to a major rebuke for the Culinary Union.