On a night when Las Vegas also hosted the world heavyweight title fight, Nevada’s biggest city crowned the number one contender to take on Donald Trump.
But the Democratic ring is still so full of rivals taking swings at Senator Bernie Sanders, that he’s still not sure which of them will end up being his main challenger.
Nevada isn’t big enough to deliver a knockout blow to the hopes of the also rans, but its ethnic diversity is a more accurate reflection of the whole country than either Iowa or New Hampshire. While analysis of voters suggests that black voters narrowly preferred former vice president Joe Biden, Hispanics opted for Sanders, as did white voters.
Pete Buttigieg sounded a note of caution in his post-caucus speech, saying Senator Sanders’ political vision wasn’t shared by most Democrats, never mind the whole country. He wants to be seen as the moderate alternative, despite his limited national political experience. But Mayor Pete attracted only 2% of the black vote in Nevada. Two percent!
He has done remarkably well to stay in the race this long, probably helped by the support he gets for being the first openly gay candidate to have a credible run for the White House. But he has to broaden his appeal to ethnic minorities if he is to stay competitive.
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It’s hard to see how the two remaining female candidates have a path to victory. Senator Elizabeth Warren performed best in the Nevada TV debate, but with the state allowing early voting, it may have been too late to have an impact.
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Amy Klobuchar may be able to look forward to a boost from her home state Minnesota which votes on Super Tuesday, but her campaign is faltering.
Joe Biden said earlier this week that he would consider second place a victory. That’s how far the once presumptive favourite has had to lower his expectations after a fifth place finish in New Hampshire. The support of black voters means he should perform better in South Carolina next week.
He has to try to go the distance, even if he doesn’t overtake Bernie Sanders’ tally of delegates. If the Vermont senator doesn’t win an overall majority, he must hope senior figures in the Democratic Party opt to use their power to ensure the nomination goes to a candidate with broader national appeal.
If it’s not Biden, that leaves a door open for Mike Bloomberg who entered the race so late he wasn’t on the ballot in Nevada, but whose huge budget for TV adverting is having an impact on national opinion polls.
Democrats have a dilemma….would they chose a former Republican, who has used his billions to buy his way into the race, just because they think he could beat President Trump?
Sanders’ campaign is clearly generating the most enthusiasm and that is translating into votes.
Opinion polls do suggest he can beat Donald Trump. But many in his own party doubt that a democratic socialist can win the centre ground when November’s election comes around.