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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton visits with Harrah's Las Vegas employees on the day of the Nevada Democratic caucus, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Las Vegas.
AP Photo/John Locher
Clinton hit the jackpot in Las Vegas’ casinos.
JACKPOT

A Nevada win means relief for Hillary Clinton and a tougher road for Bernie Sanders

By Tim Fernholz

“Team Clinton has to be worried that after Feb. 20, there may be no tomorrow,” Nevada political pundit Jon Ralston predicted just four days ago. But tomorrow never dies in Clintonland, and her win today in the Nevada caucuses—by a margin currently estimated at four percentage points—could be the turning point her campaign has been yearning for.

Senator Bernie Sanders’ recent victory in New Hampshire could prove to be the high water mark of his campaign if he cannot expand his coalition beyond white voters.

The Vermont senator’s supporters can take solace in a tighter finish than some had anticipated just a few weeks ago, but what briefly appeared to be a winnable race in Nevada slipped through their fingers. Today’s result won’t solve the delegate math problem Sanders faces: A Cook Political Report delegate model suggests that he must win 19 of the state’s 35 delegates to stay on pace with Clinton, but 538 is projecting he has won 17 at most.

His campaign will take heart from entrance polls suggesting he did better than expected with Latino voters, winning their support decisively, but the final results, and particularly heavily Latino precincts going for Clinton, suggest those polls may be fluky. With voter turnout appearing lower than in 2008, the results also contrast with Sanders’ hope to rouse previously apathetic voters, though they don’t offer much happiness to Clinton supporters looking ahead to the general election.

Clinton did appear to maintain a significant advantage among black voters in those same fluky entrance polls, one that seems to bear out in the actual caucus results. Both candidates are vying for this key group in the Democratic coalition: Earlier this week, Clinton won the endorsement of South Carolina Representative Jim Clyburn, while the Sanders campaign highlighted a recently unearthed photo of his 1963 arrest during a protest against segregated housing in Chicago.

On Saturday, Feb. 27, a South Carolina Democratic electorate dominated by black voters will go to the polls, and Clinton retains a strong lead in public opinion polls there. A win could give Clinton momentum going into the March 1st “Super Tuesday” primaries in 12 states where decisive wins could put Clinton on a clear path to win the nomination.

If Clinton can prevail in South Carolina and on Super Tuesday, Sanders will be faced with a pressing need to shake up the race. That could mean fireworks at the March 11 debate in Flint, Michigan, as Sanders continues to press Clinton with attacks on her character. Last time he was face-to-face with Clinton, he was less than aggressive about Clinton’s paid speeches at Wall Street banks. He may not be so polite the next time around.

Tim Fernholz
Reporter
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