Hillary Clinton is finally able to breath a sigh of relief. Not a full throated victory cheer, but at least she can exhale.
Clinton scored her first clear win over Bernie Sanders in the Nevada caucuses Saturday, her first in three tries. And strong support from African-Americans signals strength heading into South Carolina next week and Super Tuesday states just beyond.
But her narrow margin of victory overall, and her loss among Hispanic voters specifically, still suggests surprising challenges and a possibly long slog for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“Some may have doubted us but we never doubted each other,” Clinton told supporters at a victory party. “And this one is for you.”
The win was a comeback of sorts for the one-time dominating front-runner who just weeks ago had been expected to easily win the diverse state with help from the large Hispanic population and union workers. But she had to hold off a late surge from Sanders, fresh from a virtual tie in Iowa and a 22-point landslide in New Hampshire.
Sanders in Nevada showed he could broaden his appeal to minorities after doing well with white, rural voters in the first two states. He lost the overall nonwhite vote to the former secretary of state as she received strong support from black voters. But the independent senator from Vermont won the Hispanic vote in Nevada, according to preliminary entrance polls.
Clinton’s camp angrily disputed that she lost the Hispanic vote, lashing out at a Sanders statement boasting of his Hispanic support.
Clinton campaign spokesman Nick Merrill said in response to an email inquiry that it would be would be “irresponsible” to make that claim when Clinton won many Latino majority precincts.
Sanders still signaled his finish signaled strength for a long battle.
Sanders won the Latino by 53 to 45 percent, according to entrance polls
“Nevada was supposed to be a state ‘tailor made’ for the Clinton campaign, and a place she once led by almost 40 points,” Sanders wrote in an email to supporters. “But today, we sent a message that will stun the political and financial establishment of this country: our campaign can win anywhere.”
Still, Clinton is expected to do well in next Saturday’s primary in South Carolina, as well as on Super Tuesday, March 1, where she leads in most of the 11 states that have contests.
In a sign that she thinks she’s in very good shape in South Carolina where African-Americans are likely to make up 55 percent of the vote, Clinton’s first stop after leaving Nevada will be Texas while her husband, former President Bill Clinton, heads to Colorado.
She is favored in Southern states with large black populations, but she may have trouble with other states with large Hispanic population, including Texas. A new poll this week suggests the race in Colorado may have tightened.
Sanders isn’t expected to go anywhere.
He has said he will fight all the way to the Democratic convention in July. With an enthusiastic group of volunteers and a bank account full of money, he has no reason to stop.
Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who talks about launching a “political revolution,” has successfully drawn on anger building in the country by those fed up with stagnant wages, companies sending jobs overseas and big money in politics.
Not surprisingly, Sanders, whose message of lifting up the underpaid, overworked American worker has been resonating with new and young voters disillusioned with Washington, won liberal and independents voters as well as those under 44 years of age.
Matthew Wilson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, said Clinton’s narrow in Nevada win likely doesn’t change anything. The race “will continue to slog on with her as the favorite, but him continuing to persist with no pressure to go gently into that good night.”
“A few weeks ago, skeptics rejected the idea that Bernie would even be competitive in Nevada. The skeptics were wrong. Bernie’s message is resonating across diverse communities and his campaign is gaining support everywhere it goes. The results in Nevada prove that we have a real race for the Democratic nomination Ilya Sheyman, executive director of MoveOn.org Political Action
Clinton’s campaign had longed hoped Nevada would be part of a so-called firewall capable of halting Sanders’ early momentum. But she saw her double-digit lead from December vanish as both campaigns engaged there.
In recent days, Clinton’s campaign had sought to lower expectations, with a spokesman saying Sanders might do well because Nevada had 80 percent white voters. But whites made up only about 60 percent of the Democratic caucuses, according to preliminary entrance polls of those attending.
Clinton came into the state first, opening her first campaign office last April. Her national campaign manager Robby Mook ran her Nevada operation in 2008 when she narrowly lost the state to Obama. Her state director, Emmy Ruiz, led Obama’s re-election in Nevada in 2012, when he defeated Mitt Romney.
Sanders came in October, but opened more offices across the state, 12. He outspent her on advertising in the state by nearly two to one and sent out more multilingual door hangers and fliers than the Clinton campaign.
Hillary Clinton fell far short of the resounding victory she needed to calm the nerves of the Democrat establishment Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus
Clinton portrayed herself as a pragmatic leader who would build on Obama’s legacy and work with Republicans and Democrats to get things done in a town where little gets done. She won handily among voters who want to continue Obama policies.
She also won the female vote, which she had lost in New Hampshire, as well as those whose top quality desired in a candidate was their ability to win in a general election and experience.
Clinton supporters had worried that Sanders would benefit from same-day registration from new voters and Sanders did benefit from a high number of first-time caucus-goers. Entrance polls showed that 62 percent of the Democratic caucus goers came out for the first time Saturday. Fifty-three percent of Sanders supporters attended their first caucus, the polls show. Sanders won those whose top quality desired in a candidate is trustworthy and cares about people.