5 Takeaways From the Nevada Caucuses (The Big One: Sanders Takes Control)

LAS VEGAS — Senator Bernie Sanders won big on Saturday and is now the clear front-runner. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. saved enough face to march on to his must-win in South Carolina a week from now. Pete Buttigieg finished in the top tier again and embraced the urgency of knocking down a rising Mr. Sanders, though it is not clear where he wins next. And Senator Elizabeth Warren is awash in cash after her debate dismantling of Michael R. Bloomberg — $9 million in three days — but the performance did not nudge her up in the standings in Nevada.

Here are five takeaways of what Saturday’s results mean for the rest of the Democratic primary:

Mr. Sanders did not just win Nevada. Entrance polls show that he dominated.

Those polls showed Mr. Sanders winning men and women; whites and Latinos; voters in all but the oldest age group (17-29, 30-44 and 45-64); those with college degrees and those without. He was carrying union households and nonunion households, self-identified liberal Democrats (by a wide margin) and moderate and conservative ones (narrowly).

“Welcome to the revolution,” said Waleed Shahid, a spokesman for Justice Democrats, a progressive group.

The Sanders victory was built upon three distinct and yet overlapping bases of support: young people (56 percent support among those 44 and under), very liberal voters (49 percent) and a majority of Hispanic voters. The latter was a new factor in Nevada after two heavily white opening states, Iowa and New Hampshire, and particularly important as the race expands to big and diverse states on Super Tuesday with large Latino populations, none more significant than California and Texas.

Mr. Sanders has now won the most votes in each of the first three states (Mr. Buttigieg appears to have edged him in delegates in the still-disputed Iowa results) and has more momentum than all his rivals and more money than everyone besides the two self-funding billionaires, Tom Steyer and Mr. Bloomberg.

It was no accident that Mr. Sanders spent much of the day before the Nevada caucuses in California and had two rallies in Texas on Saturday: He campaign is looking ahead to Super Tuesday March 3 as the day he breaks away from the rest of the Democratic field.

Speaking of which …

Not long after the first results began rolling in, a super PAC supporting Mr. Buttigieg announced it was buying TV ads on Super Tuesday states. Mr. Biden’s campaign manager declared that “the Biden comeback” had just begun. Senator Amy Klobuchar dropped from her New Hampshire showing yet claimed to have “exceeded expectations.” And Ms. Warren’s campaign manager said her performance at last week’s debate would prove more important than the actual election.

Translation: No one is about to quit this race.

And the longer all the alternative candidates remain, the longer Mr. Sanders can keep carrying states and consolidating his own coalition without a singular rival.

The Nevada results reinforce the reality that this fragmented field is putting Bernie Sanders on pace to amass an insurmountable delegate lead,” said Kevin Sheekey, the campaign manager for Mr. Bloomberg.

Each has their own arguments for staying.

Mr. Biden, who carried black voters in Nevada, is the best positioned to beat Mr. Sanders in an upcoming state (South Carolina). Mr. Buttigieg has had the strongest showings overall besides Mr. Sanders. Ms. Warren, whose campaign announced a $21 million haul for February, argues she has the money and organization to compete. Mr. Bloomberg has his billions. Ms. Klobuchar’s path — which is taking her to Fargo, North Dakota, on Sunday — seems less clear and may be more about grabbing spare delegates than the nomination.

The collective impact is clear. A remarkable six candidates all had at least 12 percent of the vote among voters over 45 in Nevada, an almost impossibly even level of fracture.

The Biden case for the nomination has been straightforward: He’s the guy to beat President Trump. Yet for the third time in three races, Mr. Biden did not win. He did improve from his bad fourth-place finish in Iowa and his disastrous fifth place in New Hampshire (as of late Saturday both Mr. Buttigieg and Mr. Biden were claiming second as Nevada sloooowly processed results).

But throughout February, Mr. Biden had said that his fortunes would be reversed now that more diverse states were voting. Except it was Mr. Sanders who soundly defeated Mr. Biden among Latino voters, according to entrance polls, while Mr. Biden’s lead among African Americans — his strongest base — continued to shrink to 12 percentage points.

“Y’all did it for me. Y’all did it,” Mr. Biden nonetheless told his supporter in Las Vegas.

He notably sharpened his contrast with Mr. Sanders and Mr. Bloomberg, who has vied to take over the moderate lane the former vice president occupied for virtually all of 2019.

“I ain’t a socialist. I ain’t a plutocrat. I’m a Democrat,” he said. “And proud of it!”

Mr. Biden could well still win in South Carolina where he has consistently led in the polls, and that could be a springboard to Super Tuesday. But his schedule has him locked down in the must-win state for much of the week as rivals cross the nation.

And don’t forget: Mr. Biden led in the Nevada polling averages for much of the last year.

Until he didn’t.

Of all the victory and concession speeches on Saturday, Mr. Buttigieg’s was the most revealing. He used the big platform not just to make the case for himself but to slash at Mr. Sanders, whom he accused of pushing an “inflexible, ideological revolution that leaves out most Democrats, not to mention most Americans.”

He talked about the urgency of beating Mr. Trump and the importance of nominating a Democrat who “actually gives a damn” about down-ballot races. Speaking on MSNBC, one of the campaign’s national chairs, Representative Anthony Brown, called Mr. Buttigieg the leader in the “non-revolutionary lane” of the primary, though the extent to which such a lane exists, it is more a tangled mess.

Going forward, the problem is that all of Mr. Buttigieg’s early successes in Iowa, New Hampshire and, to a lesser extent, Nevada has not yet lifted him nationally.

Among black voters, the Nevada entrance polls had him carrying a meager 2 percent. Advisers to his rivals and Democratic strategists who want to see Mr. Sanders stopped have been frustrated with Mr. Buttigieg’s campaign, arguing that while he has been relatively successful so far, he is now in a demographic cul-de-sac.

But Mr. Buttigieg has a compelling counterpoint, as he said pointedly in his speech: “Ours is the only campaign that has beaten Senator Sanders anywhere in the country this whole campaign cycle.”

If Wednesday’s debate performance was going to turn Ms. Warren’s political fortunes, it did not do so fast enough for the Nevada caucuses.

The results trickling in delivered another round of frustration for a candidate who fell below expectations in both Iowa and New Hampshire and had her campaign manager, Roger Lau, arguing on Saturday that the days-old debate would prove more significant than the actual election.

“We believe the Nevada debate will have more impact on the structure of the race,” Mr. Lau wrote on Twitter. He called the actual results a “lagging indicator” because so many votes — true — were cast before the debate.

The problem is that election results create their own new gravitational reality in politics and the race itself will be reset with the next debate on Tuesday. Then comes South Carolina, which was long seen as her weakest of the four early states. Then, suddenly, Super Tuesday, where Mr. Sanders seems to be making a play for Ms. Warren’s home state of Massachusetts.

Ms. Warren still has fans. Before one of the largest crowds of her campaign in Seattle on Saturday, she told supporters that she had raised $9 million in the last three days, a huge sum. That gives a financial cushion to a campaign that was so close to running out of money in January it took out a $3 million line of credit.

But on a day that Mr. Sanders won and was building momentum, Ms. Warren was still focused on her preferred target: Mr. Bloomberg, reliving some of the greatest hits from the debate.

And she added some new, off-brand material for a candidate who rose in the polls last year on the strength of her myriad plans and reputation as a wonkish fighter.

She cracked a height joke.

Mr. Bloomberg, she said, posed “a big threat, not a tall threat, but a big one.”

Her rivals had not even mentioned her in their assessments.

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