Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s five-point victory over Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Saturday in Nevada’s Democratic caucuses may prove to be a pivotal moment in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Although her 52 percent to 47 percent win over Sanders in the Silver State was a far cry from her once commanding 25-point advantage in early polls, it provided a more realistic indication of the sharp divide between moderates and liberal within the Democratic Party. And it also suggests for the first time that Clinton has a realistic path to the Democratic nomination, despite all of her political baggage, including the State Department email scandal and Sanders’ surprisingly strong showings in the early going in drawing large crowds and millions in campaign contributions.
None other than Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, the big winner in Saturday’s Republican primary in South Carolina, predicted on Sunday that Clinton will be his Democratic rival in the general election campaign. “Frankly, if she’s indicted, that’s the only way she can be stopped,” Trump told CNN’s Jake Tapper during an interview.
A jubilant Clinton praised her campaign staff for helping her pull out a victory in a race that pollsters suggested could have gone either way in the final days. And she hammered away again at Sanders for taking too narrow an approach by focusing almost exclusively on progressive campaign themes of income inequality, the evils of Wall Street and a corrupt campaign finance system.
During her victory speech in Nevada Saturday evening, Clinton told a cheering crowd that “The truth is we are more than a single-issue country,” and she expanded on that during her interview today on CNN.
“Look, I don’t think we are a single-issue country,” she said on CNN’s State of the Union program. “I’m certainly not a single-issue candidate. I want to knock down all the barriers that are holding people back. We spent a lot of time talking with voters in the last week about the barriers they felt [we impeding} their getting ahead.”
“Of course, a lot of it is economic and it needs to be addressed,” she said. “That’s why I’m not only against bad things and I want to stop them, but I want to start some good things. More good paying jobs and rising incomes again. Once and for all making sure women get equal pay for the work we do. Do more to help small business. [Increasing] clean and renewable energy, especially in Nevada which should be the solar energy capital of the West.”
Sanders acknowledged in an interview on the same CNN show that he was disappointed with his showing in Nevada, especially among black voters. However, he insisted that “I haven’t the vaguest idea what she is talking about” in suggesting that his campaign agenda is too narrow.
“I think the more the African-American community hears our message on a broken criminal justice system, which has more people in jail today than any other country on earth – largely African-American and Latino – and when they hear our message about the need for an economy that represents all of us, not just the [top] one percent, I think you’ll see us making progress there as well,” Sanders said.
Sanders, the self-described democratic socialist who dared to challenge Clinton when many other bigger names in politics shied away from the contest, defeated her by double digits in New Hampshire and lost by less than a percentage point to her in Iowa. He stressed today that his campaign continues to gain momentum and is attracting once unimaginable sums in grass-roots campaign contributions.
“The truth is that for a campaign that started off as a fringe campaign at three percent in the polls, we have enormous momentum,” he said. “I think people are responding to our message of a rigged economy where ordinary Americans work longer hours for lower wages, and almost all new income and wealth goes to the top one percent and a corrupt campaign finance system in which billionaires are buying elections.”
“I think the message is resonating,” he added. “And obviously the proof of that is that Hillary Clinton is more or less echoing much of what we are saying.”
Sanders, as expected, did better than Clinton in yesterday’s caucuses among whites, college students and young people and Hispanics, according to network entrance polls, although Clinton’s campaign argued that Clinton did better than Sanders in some key Hispanic precincts.
Regardless of the precise breakdown of the Hispanic vote, Clinton more than made up for any deficiencies with more moderate self-identified Democrats, labor groups including the highly influential culinary workers, and African-American voters who overwhelmingly flocked to her side.
Blacks made up about 13 percent of the electorate in yesterday’s voting. According to CNN entrance polls, Clinton beat Sanders among African-Americans 76 percent to 22 percent – an eye-popping 54 point advantage. By contrast, Sanders held an eight-point lead among Latino voters, who accounted for roughly 20 percent of Democratic caucus goers. Clinton won thanks to a massive turnout of supporters in Clark County, the most populous area of the state that includes Las Vegas, while Sanders did better in Reno and other northern tier areas.
These results could be a harbinger for even better things to come for Clinton in next Saturday’s Democratic primary in South Carolina, where more than half of the electorate will be black and Clinton is likely to make her strongest showing yet against Sanders.
That same dynamic is likely to play out for Clinton in the coming weeks, especially on Super Tuesday, Mar. 1, when there will be primaries in a dozen delegate-rich states with large numbers of African-American voters, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Virginia and Texas.
Sanders was hoping for a break-out performance in Nevada to demonstrate that he had much broader appeal beyond the mostly white voters who rallied to his side in Iowa and New Hampshire and who have supported his political career in Vermont for decades. While he clearly made inroads with Hispanic voters in Nevada, he will have a much harder time arguing that he can build a coalition beyond his largely white and liberal core.
What’s more, Clinton showed a lot more spark and energy in the final 48 hours of campaigning in Nevada than did Sanders, who limited his appearances there. She appeared at a rally at a local union hall in Las Vegas, hobnobbed with workers in casinos on the Strip, met a black business owner and even played soccer with young Hispanic children, according to the Las Vegas Sun.