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Sanders chalks six-point Nevada defeat as grassroots victory

Video by Erik Petrovich



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.

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 or via Twitter @EAPetrovich.

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    Chris FryerFeb 20, 2016 at 11:26 pm

    So let me get this straight, so I can explain it to my kid when he grows up…

    Competing for the votes of the American people in 2016 we had two parties filled to the brim with liars, racists, and hypocrites. We had people being outright paid for by corporations and the wealthy elite, who attempted to convince us that they were against corporations and the wealthy elite. We had people who opposed human rights (or whose opinions conveniently “evolved” around election time) that promised to fight for every human’s rights. We had candidates guilty of awful judgment, both on domestic and foreign policies, who championed for wars and trade agreements and tax loopholes that wrecked the working class of this country, then came to us in 2016 and argued that their pragmatism was a good quality.

    We, as a people, were conned into voting for a candidate that embodied all that was wrong with our country to begin with. A candidate who raked in over a hundred million dollars in campaign distributions from big corporations and financial institutions. We voted for a CEO, not a President. And we, as a people, decided that it was okay to keep corruption in the White House, that it was okay to trust a liar, that it was okay to try the same thing again and expect different results.

    We did that.

    Of course, with Sanders, we had a chance to do the opposite. We had a chance to speak up and make a statement with our vote. We had a chance to vote for the one candidate that didn’t represent the fiasco of our political system. But the people were fooled. They were fooled to think that their voice wouldn’t be heard. They were told that Sanders ideas were unrealistic, that his views were too radical, that it just wouldn’t work. They lost focus on the message behind their vote. A vote for Sanders was not only a vote for drastic change in the way this country is run, but a vote that could vastly affect our culture. In 2016, we voted against change because we didn’t want to pay more taxes to help each other. We voted against change because we’d been convinced that a broken system could only remain broken. We could have pushed our country toward being a more cooperative, compassionate, inclusive place to live, one that didn’t idolize money or power, one that treated its neighbors with brotherly love. Instead, we voted for corruption. Instead, we chose selfishness and fearfulness. We voted and lost our voice.

    I wish it wasn’t this way. I wish we weren’t so focused on “winning,” so much as “speaking up.” The year 2016 was the last year that a vote meant something, and we squandered it to please the wealthy elite. We squandered the vote to keep our poor under-fed, under-employed, and incarcerated. We handed our votes over to the same greed, classism, and income inequality that has plagued this country since the 1700’s. We squandered it for no reason. We gave our country back to the rich, the liars, and the thieves, and nothing changed.

    We did that, and I wish I could tell you why. If I could go back in time, I’d try to figure that out.