So they’re still not done counting. But it’s plenty clear who won. When the Associated Press calls the caucus for you with 4% of precincts reporting, you had a good day. Unlike Iowa, where Bernie Sanders underperformed his polls by a couple points, and lost out to Pete Buttigieg by the narrowest imaginable margin on the State Delegate Equivalents measurement, or New Hampshire, where he won, but by a way thinner margin than 2016, Nevada was a beat down.
With 60% of precincts reporting, Bernie has as about as many first alignment/popular votes as Buttigieg and Joe Biden combined. His final alignment numbers are even better. The CCD measurement (the Nevada version of Iowa’s SDE) is working further in his favor this time. Biden can say Nevada revived his campaign all he wants, but this wasn’t a close second place. He’s not even guaranteed to wind up in second when the tabulating is done. Mayor Pete has closed the gap as the count went on, and only trails him by 77 final alignment votes now. The CCD margin is larger (1496 to 1172) so we’ll see.
As a rule, if the first place finisher does more than twice as well as the second place person, it doesn’t matter who wound up second. Entrance polls indicate Bernie did almost as well with African American voters as Biden. And he wound up with absurd percentages of Latinos under 45. This wasn’t a fluke. The Sanders campaign has focused on this since the 2016 contest ended. A combination of money, planning, and a huge volunteer base produced tangible results yesterday.
While it’s true that younger voters show up less often than older voters, are less likely to have registered to vote, and are even less likely to do so if they identify as Latino, if you get 60 to 70 percent of a highly populated group, all the low turnout numbers in the world can’t take away the benefit. Overall turnout was up significantly from 2016, but the percentage of Latino voters was not. Given demographic trends, you’d expect this number to increase.
It didn’t. Combined with what we saw in Iowa and New Hampshire, we shouldn’t figure there’s some special Sanders Turnout Machine that will get lots of people who have never voted before to the polls. He’ll get some, but there are limits. The reason he’s becoming so difficult to beat is how loyal his voting base is right now. The Culinary Union not only failed to endorse him, but spoke out heavily against Medicare for All. Despite this, it looks like Bernie won 5 of the 7 caucuses held on casino property, all of which were heavily monitored by Culinary reps.
Younger voters of color are all in on Bernie right now. And younger white voters like him plenty themselves. If someone is a young, very progressive, voter of color, they’re voting for Bernie. He can thank AOC for this. When she endorsed him in October, he was leading among this group, but not by this Putinesque margin. It was far closer between Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. With young, educated, white progressives, she was ahead. Not anymore. There’s a residual bit of support for Warren, but the majority of these voters would readily accept a Sanders nomination, and happily vote for him in November.
No other candidate has a majority with any key voting group. Biden still has a plurality with older African Americans. While helpful, that just doesn’t add up the same way. It might save him in South Carolina, but in the big Super Tuesday delegate prizes of California and Texas, Bernie has the perfect demographic base. Tellingly, he spent yesterday not in Nevada or South Carolina, but El Paso and San Antonio, Texas.
We’re coming up on five years since Sanders announced his 2016 candidacy. These things take time. He wasn’t quite ready in 2016. Hillary Clinton relied on decades of goodwill in various Latino and black communities to outpoll Sanders among Latinos over 35 or 40 and African Americans over 30. An extra four years has gone a long way. His brand is way more established. In both instances, he’s moving up the age curve. Bernie is never going to get voters over 65, of any ethnicity, to give him a plurality or majority of support in a primary. But he doesn’t need it. Especially when several candidates are dividing the seniors.
Time does things that a shared ethnic background cannot. Julian Castro was unable to earn support from Latino voters. Beto O’Rourke ran better among Texas Latinos when he was still in the race. Why? Beto ran statewide in 2018. More visible. Outside of Texas, Castro was even more invisible. He was neither able to gain support for himself, nor garner any for Warren. We have tons of evidence that voters don’t immediately flock to a candidate just because he’s of similar age, ethnicity, or religious background.
If a candidate is very viable with voters outside the group, it’s a different story. Mitt Romney won the Nevada GOP caucus in both 2008 and 2012 on the strength of a large Mormon population. But Romney was a true contender elsewhere without that help. This time, Sanders was the only candidate with a legit, far-reaching plan for attracting and turning out Latino voters.
Biden was more focused on African Americans. Buttigieg needed to invest most of his time, energy, and money in Iowa and New Hampshire, in the hopes of getting a boost that didn’t materialize. Tom Steyer wasn’t dynamic or established enough. Warren might be very viable with Latinos in four years, but didn’t have enough time to build there along with the extreme effort she spent trying to appeal to educated progressive and semi-progressive white voters. Then there’s Amy Klobuchar. She still can’t get white voters born after 1970 to say yes.
I think we forget how hard it is and how long it takes to win the confidence and true loyalty of more than 10% of a primary electorate. It doesn’t usually happen on a first try. When it does, the candidate has generational communication skills. The Democrats who have won a nomination on the first try in the past hundred years are FDR, JFK, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. One of those stands out a bit.
Bill Clinton. What, you thought it was Carter? Nah. Yes, he’s the one of the five that lacked generational communications skills, but much like his cohort, Carter got started very early, beginning in Iowa more than a year ahead of the caucus. Now that’s normal. He’s why. FDR had planned a presidential run for years. JFK got started with his 1956 failed vice presidential bid, and never stopped. He was years ahead of his 1960 competitors. Obama electrified Democrats at the 2004 convention and spent the next four years preparing and refining his national image. Only Clinton entered a race without making sure the public knew who he was first.
And he got lucky. Better known Democrats (Mario Cuomo, Lloyd Bentsen, et al) were afraid of Bush 41’s post-Iraq War 1.0 approval ratings. He had to beat Paul Tsongas and the Midlife Crisis version of Jerry Brown. This year’s field was a bit stronger. Just because Warren and Buttigieg aren’t doing better with voters of color now doesn’t mean they can’t connect by 2024. But Sanders got a lead on them and wisely took advantage. This is hard. Anyone who wants the 2024 or 2028 nomination needs a larger coalition than they currently have. And they need to start now.