Clinton’s Lead in Nevada Evaporates as Sanders Continues to Surge
Policy + Politics

Clinton’s Lead in Nevada Evaporates as Sanders Continues to Surge

© Steve Marcus / Reuters

The Democratic presidential contest in Nevada, once considered a cakewalk for former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, has turned into a pitched battle between Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders just days before next Saturday’s Democratic caucuses.

A survey released last weekend by the conservative Washington Free Beacon/Target Point Polling showed Clinton and Sanders in a standoff, 45 percent to 45 percent, with 10 percent still undecided. Clinton was up by as many as 23 points in other polling last December, but appears to have lost considerable ground in the face of Sanders aggressive campaigning and major ad buys that have eclipsed Clinton’s media effort.

Related: Clinton Scrambles as Sanders Puts the Black Vote in Play

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Sanders has spent twice as much as Clinton on TV ad buys in Nevada, $2.93 million to $1.46 million. Sanders’ ad buys cover 7,000 spots in the Las Vegas and Reno markets compared to just 4,289 for Clinton.

In a state with a large Hispanic population and influential labor organizations, Clinton was expected to dominate the Democratic caucuses. Yet Sanders’ progressive agenda of free health care and college tuition and comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship has cut into Clinton’s support among Latinos, blacks and young people.

The new Washington Free Beacon poll shows that Democrats give Sanders a clear edge over Clinton in matters of trust and honesty, caring about average Americans and offering a progressive agenda. His promises to soak the rich to finance national health care and other benefits appeals to many Democrats trying to decide on a candidate.  Moreover, his overwhelming 22-point victory over Clinton last week in New Hampshire has greatly added to the Vermont democratic socialist’s momentum.

Sanders late last week picked up an endorsement from the Las Vegas-based International Brotherhood of Electric Workers Local 357, marking an important inroad on the labor movement. However, Clinton has been endorsed by more than 20 labor groups, including the influential Service Employees International Union. Labor endorsements in Nevada are highly significant because of the organizational muscle they often bring to political caucuses.

Related: How Bernie Sanders Just Shook Up the Democratic Primary. Again

Clinton has also been hurt by the decision of retiring Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic minority leader, to remain neutral in the presidential contest. There is little doubt that Reid would like to see Clinton nominated by the Democrats. But according to Politico, the political grand master believes that a “rowdy face-off” between Clinton and Sanders could stoke Democratic registration in his home state and give Reid’s preferred successor – former state attorney general Catherine Cortez Masto – a boost in a tough general election campaign.

Still, the Clinton campaign organization has been active in Nevada since April and may have a slight edge over Sanders in turning out voters for next weekend’s caucuses. Both camps are aggressively courting Latinos with Spanish language ads. Thirty-percent of the Democratic electorate in 2008 was black or Hispanic.

With a hair-thin victory in Iowa and a humiliating loss in New Hampshire to show for more than a year of campaigning and mega fundraising, Clinton can ill afford to lose again in Nevada. But if she falls again to Sanders – or barely squeaks by – then it would be essential for her to win the following week in South Carolina’s Democratic primary to avoid panic setting in.

In that race, African Americans will likely make the difference in the outcome. Clinton and Sanders went toe to toe in pursuit of the black vote on Sunday when they jointly appeared at the Victory Missionary Baptist Church in Las Vegas.

Related: Sanders' Landslide Win in New Hampshire Puts Huge Pressure on Clinton

The Washington Post’s John Wagner reported that the morning was somewhat awkward for the two Democratic rivals, who didn’t bother to shake hands or talk and rarely made eye contact.

Sanders went first, talking about his religious convictions before shifting to issues of criminal justice reform and education and the harsh realities of a post-recession economy. “No state in America knows more about the impact of the greed and illegal behavior of Wall Street than the state of Nevada,” he said. “This state was decimated.”

The pastor let Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), a civil rights icon, introduce Clinton, who reiterated her claim that Sanders’ emphasis on cracking down on Wall Street banks, addressing income inequality among the middle class and reforming campaign finance laws was too narrow, and that she would bring a broader perspective to the presidency.

“I am not a single-issue candidate, and this is not a single-issue country,” she said from the pulpit. “Because if we were to achieve everything about banks and money in politics, would that end racism? Would that make it automatically going to happen that people would be able to get jobs they deserve, the housing they need, the education their children need to have?”