LAS VEGAS — Bernie Sanders has won the Nevada Democratic caucuses, NBC News projects.
Sanders, coming off a strong showing in the Iowa caucuses and a narrow victory in the New Hampshire primary, rode a wave of support from young voters, liberal voters and Latinos to a runaway first-place finish in Saturday's contest — strengthening his status as the front-runner. It remains too early to call second and third-place finishers.
With roughly 50 percent of precincts in the state reporting, Sanders had 46.6 percent of the vote. Former Vice President Joe Biden had 19.2 percent, while former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg had 15.4 percent and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., had 10.3 percent. Mike Bloomberg, who is surging in national polls but turned in a rocky debate performance in Las Vegas this week, is skipping the first four states and wasn't on the ballot here.
The results that have come in so far allowed Sanders to take the lead in the overall pledged delegate count, jumping ahead of Buttigieg. More delegates will be awarded as results continue to come in.
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Sanders' win — in the third contest in the 2020 Democratic primary — shows that the Vermont senator can compete strongly among a more diverse electorate: participants in Saturday's contest are much more racially diverse than voters in any presidential contest so far this year, according to results from the NBC News entrance poll.
A decisive victory gives Sanders momentum heading into next Saturday's primary in South Carolina, where polls show him running a close second to Biden. Sanders, looking to lock up a commanding delegate lead in his quest for the nomination, has also been devoting more time in California, the state that offers the largest delegate prize on Super Tuesday, March 3. Before caucus doors closed in Nevada Saturday, he was in Texas, the second-biggest Super Tuesday state.
Sanders took the stage at a raucous rally in San Antonio after multiple networks called the race for him to revel in the victory.
“I’m delighted to bring you some pretty good news," Sanders said, unleashing chants of "Bernie" from the crowd. "We won the popular vote in Iowa, we won the New Hampshire primary, and according to three networks and the AP we have now won the Nevada caucus."
"We have put together a multi-generational, multi-racial coalition, which is not only going to win in Nevada, it’s going to sweep this country," he added.
"Based on what I have seen in Texas … don’t tell anybody, I don’t want to get them nervous, we are going to win the Democratic primary in Texas," he predicted.
He then poked fun at President Donald Trump, who had been tweeting about the Vermont senator as caucus results rolled in, suggesting that the Democratic National Committee was already aiming to prevent him from obtaining the nomination.
"The president gets very, very upset easily so don't tell him we are going to beat him here in Texas,” Sanders said.
Entrance poll data showed that Sanders overwhelmed his rivals among the state’s youngest caucusgoers, capturing the votes of two-thirds of those aged 17 to 29. The Vermont senator was also the clear favorite of Latino Democrats, winning about half of their votes. And as in previous contests, Sanders is garnering wide support from voters describing themselves as “very liberal.”
Sanders also led among voters who said they preferred a nominee who could beat President Donald Trump, with 23 percent — ahead of Biden's 19 percent and Buttigieg's 18 percent, the entrance poll showed. And he led among voters who said they decided in the last few days, winning 24 percent of them. Buttigieg had 18 percent, and Warren had 17 percent despite her fiery and widely praised debate performance on Wednesday. Biden was next with 15 percent.
Sanders also performed well with African American voters. Entrance poll results showed Sanders with 27 percent of the black vote, trailing only Joe Biden, who got 36 percent. African American voters made up about 1 in 10 participants at the Nevada caucuses.
Ahead of the caucuses, the state's culinary union — one of the most influential unions in the hospitality-industry-heavy state — appeared to come out against the candidate with a flyer proclaiming that his “Medicare for All” plan would "end Culinary health care." Despite that, more than half of Nevada caucusgoers said they supported Sanders' signature “Medicare for All” proposal, according to results from the NBC News Entrance Poll.
After Sanders' projected win, the union released a statement that said it remained focused on defeating Trump in the fall and "securing health care for all, while maintaining a choice for Culinary Union members to keep what we’ve built in 85 years."
Buttigieg, addressing his supporters in Las Vegas, took sharp aim at his competitor, slamming the Vermont lawmaker for his health care proposal and suggesting he can't beat Trump.
"We are moving on from the 'Battle Born State' with a battle on our hands," he said. "But before we rush to nominate Senator Sanders … let's take a sober look at what is at stake. For our party, our values."
Citing "Medicare for All," Buttigieg slammed Sanders as someone who “believes in an inflexible, ideological revolution that leaves out most Democrats.”
"And most Americans," he said.
Biden, for his part, addressed supporters in Las Vegas as results came in, telling them that, "Now we’re going on to South Carolina and win and we’re going to take this back."
Democrats across the nation were watching closely to see who Nevada chose Saturday — and hoping the event didn't resemble the disaster that struck Iowa's nominating contest earlier this month.
Despite fears of repeated chaos — Nevada's new early-voting system, high turnout and a never-before-used digital tool were among the factors that could have caused complications with the count — the results reporting appeared to go mostly as planned, even if it did go more slowly than in past years.
According to vote count observers for the National Election Pool, a consortium of news organizations, there were a handful of precincts where confusion about the counting rules and or incorporating the early vote was delaying the reporting of results. The observers reported these problems in at least six of the sixty-three locations where they are collecting votes.
Politics watchers weren't counting on a smooth results report Saturday, even as the Nevada Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee sought to tamp down fears.
The Democratic National Committee dispatched some three dozen staffers to the state to help with everything from volunteer recruitment to technical assistance, while another team in Washington was set to assist with data processing. And DNC Chairman Tom Perez, who stayed away from Iowa on caucus day, has been on the ground here Saturday.
Trump, meanwhile, was officially awarded all of the state Republican party's 25 delegates.
The state party had already canceled its caucuses, and voted by acclimation on Saturday to give Trump all of the delegates, executive director Will Sexauer told The Associated Press.
The Nevada numbers give Trump 86 of the 87 Republican delegates awarded to date. Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld won one delegate in Iowa.