Here are five takeaways from the Nevada caucuses.
Sanders has a diverse coalition that could carry him to the nomination
In the 2016 primary, Sanders struggled mightily with voters of color, who broke in large numbers for Hillary Clinton and ultimately propelled her to the nomination.
Since then, Sanders has invested heavily in outreach to racial minorities and he’s accumulated a diverse team of dynamic surrogates.
Those efforts are paying off in 2020, as Sanders has built a diverse coalition of Latinos, young people, and union members, who drove him to a huge victory in Nevada, the most diverse state to vote so far.
And while former Vice President Joe Biden has enjoyed strong support from black voters, there are growing signs that many African Americans are giving Sanders a serious look. An NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey released this week found Sanders and Biden in a statistical tie nationally among black voters.
That’s a huge development as the contest turns to South Carolina, where more than half of the Democratic primary electorate is black.
Sanders is certain to get a polling boost coming out of Nevada and he’ll be considered a top contender to win South Carolina outright, which could deliver a knockout blow to Biden.
And Sanders’s diverse base of support makes him even more imposing heading into Super Tuesday on March 3, when about one-third of the delegates will be allocated, with most of them coming from the racially diverse states of California and Texas.
Rivals have an uphill climb in stopping Sanders after decisive Nevada victory
There is not much positive news coming out of Nevada for the also-rans.
Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg has dramatically outperformed expectations so far, narrowly winning more delegates at the Iowa caucuses and barely falling short in New Hampshire.
But those predominantly white states are not reflective of the racial make-up of the states that have yet to vote. Buttigieg, along with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the third-place finisher in New Hampshire, have not shown an ability to make inroads with voters of color.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) raised an astonishing amount of money in the days since she took down former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg at the Las Vegas debate. But there was no pronounced bounce for her in Nevada, and it’s unclear where she’ll be able to defeat Sanders, who will be looking to win in her home state of Massachusetts on Super Tuesday.
Biden’s support among black voters appears to be crumbling.
Bloomberg has unlimited money and is the only candidate on the airwaves in all 14 Super Tuesday states, but his disastrous debate performance raises real questions about whether he’ll be able to compete.
Businessman Tom Steyer has surprising pockets of support in South Carolina, but he hasn’t left a mark in any of the races so far.
There will be pressure on some of these candidates to drop out, as the anti-Sanders contingent ramps up warnings that the party must align behind an alternative before Sanders runs away with the nomination. But the field could remain crowded through Super Tuesday.
The Buttigieg and Bloomberg campaigns are already warning that Sanders might be headed for an “insurmountable” delegates lead by March 3.
Democrats are enthusiastic and turning out in record numbers
Democrats can breathe a sigh of relief — the lower than expected turnout for the Iowa caucuses was a mirage.
More than 176,000 people caucused in Iowa earlier this month, a slight increase from 2016, but nothing close to the blowout numbers from 2008, when the Hawkeye State sent former President Obama on his way to the nomination.
Democrats assumed that caucus and primary turnout would be gangbusters, driven by grassroots energy to defeat President Trump.
But New Hampshire painted a different picture, with a record 300,000 people turning out, blowing past the 288,000 who voted in the 2008 primary.
And now it appears that Nevada is headed for record turnout as well.
More than 75,000 people participated in the early caucuses, not far behind the 84,000 who voted in the contests for both parties in 2016.
The final numbers aren’t in yet, but early returns show that about half of the electorate in Nevada is voting for the first time. Nevada Democrats said they received 10,000 new applications to join the party over the week of early voting.
The anti-Sanders crowd is in full blown panic mode
The push for an alternative to Sanders is on.
Some establishment Democrats have been warning for months that nominating a self-described Democratic socialist will be ballot box poison for the party in November.
Sanders and his allies think most of the handwringing is coming from a small contingent with outsized influence on cable news and Twitter. They point to polls that show Sanders is running as strong as anyone in a head-to-head match-up with Trump.
But Sanders has a hostile relationship with many national party leaders, who will be sounding the alarm in the weeks ahead that he must be stopped at all costs, even if it means contesting the nomination at a brokered convention.
It will get nastier from here as desperation sets in ahead of Super Tuesday.
Buttigieg used his Las Vegas concession speech to hammer Sanders — a sign that Sanders’s rivals will be ramping up their attacks against him as the clock ticks down to Super Tuesday.
Buttigieg warned that Sanders would be a general election disaster, an argument that plays to the fears of many Democrats, whose top priority is to defeat Trump.
“Sen. Sanders believes in an inflexible, ideological revolution that leaves out most Democrats, not to mention most Americans,” Buttigieg said.
And he warned that Sanders had fomented a divisive movement that would turn away potential new voters
“Sen. Sanders’s revolution has the tenor of combat, division and polarization, a vision where whoever wins the day, nothing will change the toxic tone of our politics,” he said.
And Sanders, who consistently rails against the “corporate media,” won’t get much help from the cable news outlets, where many anchors, hosts, panelists and guests are hostile toward his world view.
That dynamic was on full display on MSNBC on Saturday.
Anchor Chris Matthews, a fierce Sanders critic, likened his Nevada victory to the fall of France in 1940. Anchor Nicolle Wallace said the Democratic Party had been overcome by a “squeaky, angry minority.” And Democratic strategist James Carville said the primary is “going very well” for Russian President Vladimir Putin, a nod to reports that Russia is seeking to meddle in the primary by boosting Sanders.