Sanders chalks six-point Nevada defeat as grassroots victory

Erik Petrovich

Video by Erik Petrovich

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HENDERSON, NV – In a campaign centered around maintaining momentum and mobilization of disaffected voters, Bernie Sanders received the support of 47 percent of the democratic vote in the Nevada caucuses, just 6 points shy of his challenger Hillary Clinton.

Sanders conceded defeat to Clinton in a speech given to a large crowd of his supporters at an open-air pavilion, but chalking the loss as a victory for his movement. 

Victory for Grassroots

“I am very proud of the campaign we ran,” Sanders said. “Five weeks ago we were 25 points behind and we ended up in a very close election. We probably will leave Nevada with a solid share of the delegates.” 

Caucus-goers line up outside William E. Orr Middle School. (Photo credit: Sady Swanson.)
Caucus-goers line up outside William E. Orr Middle School. (Photo credit: Sady Swanson.)

Precinct Captain Stephen Spellman, a Law student at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, said Clinton’s victory was “not that significant,” citing the fact that delegates are distributed between candidates according to how many votes they received. Spellman said in his precinct, delegates were split evenly between the two candidates, which he said illustrated how close the race was on the local level.

The sentiment is shared among his campaign advisers, who said that they do not see Nevada as a loss, but rather as a victory for the grassroots organization of his campaign.

“Every day we are doing a little bit better,” National Field Director Rich Pelletier said after Sanders delivered his speech. “If we had another week to tell more folks, we would have won.”

Attorney Joel Block is running a grassroots-style campaign for the California State Legislature for the 72nd State Assembly District. Having operated a campaign in a similar manner as Sanders, Block said, “In many ways, grassroots won.”

Block said the Sanders campaign will not take a hit to its momentum as his message of democratic socialism is one not heard from any candidate since the Great Depression.

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Nevada is the first state with a large minority population to report its results in the west. Because of this, other western states, including Colorado, look to Nevada to predict what results could look like at their primaries or caucuses.

Exit Polls

According to exit polls published by ABC News, Sanders did well among Latino and youth voters, while Clinton was supported by union workers, blacks and women.

Sanders won approximately 74 percent of the under-45 age demographic, and 54 percent of the Hispanic vote in the Nevada caucuses, a group that makes up nearly 28 percent of the state’s population.

The senator beat Clinton in Washoe County by 150 delegates, a county containing Reno, but it was not enough to bring him to victory as the former secretary of state had an advantage of nearly 1,000 delegates in Clark County, where Las Vegas is situated. 

Clinton took 57 percent of women in the Nevada democratic caucuses, compared to Sanders’ 47 percent. Clinton won 54 percent of union workers, who have massive influence over primaries in the state. She notably came out way ahead of Sanders with blacks, taking 74 percent of the black vote in the state, a demographic that makes up 9 percent of the state’s population

Live at the Caucus

Alex Cherup caucused for Sanders at William E. Orr Middle School near UNLV. 

“The status quo is something that we always need to be fighting against, and I see the Sanders campaign continuing to propel that voice of youth, that voice of change, that voice of challenge to bring up the contradictions in our communities to go toward progress,” Cherup said. “Nothing against Hillary Clinton.”

The line to get into the caucus wrapped around the building, and was full of avid Sanders supporters and quieter Clinton advocates. 

Ashley Farmer, a graduate student at UNLV getting her MED in special education, said that while she supports Sanders, she will vote for whoever becomes the Democratic nominee.

“I support Bernie because he is less connected to corporate interests, and is an honest candidate,” Farmer said. “I think Hillary has lost touch.”

The next roadblock that the Sanders campaign will have to overcome is the South Carolina primaries, where Clinton currently holds a lead of nearly 30 points over the Vermont senator.

Editors Note: The Collegian sent two editors to Las Vegas, Nevada to cover the Republican and Democratic caucuses before the campaigns come to Colorado on March 1. This piece is part of a series of articles produced during the five days they spent traveling in and around Sin City. Follow the Collegian for continuous coverage of the 2016 election.

Collegian Assistant News Editor Erik Petrovich can be reached at news@collegian.com or via Twitter @EAPetrovich.