LAS VEGAS (CN) – Bernie Sanders was cruising toward an apparent decisive win in the Nevada caucus Saturday evening, claiming 46.6% of the vote with 50% of precincts reporting statewide in the nation’s third presidential nominating contest – the first in a state with a diverse, urban population.
The Vermont senator claimed victory early in the day with more than 90% of precincts yet to report results. In front of a screaming crowd of supporters in San Antonio, Sanders vowed that as president he would stick up for working families.
He urged the nation to get involved in the political process, stand for justice and compassion and unify.
“Brothers and sisters, if we stand together we will not only defeat Trump, we will transform this country and create a government and an economy that works for all of us, not just wealthy campaign contributors,” Sanders said.
He vowed as president to adopt the Green New Deal, shift the economy away from the fossil fuels industry, end the War on Drugs, legalize marijuana, and enact sweeping reform immigration policy via executive order.
Former Vice President Joe Biden followed Sanders in early returns with 19.2%. After Biden came former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Butigieg (15.4%); Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (10.3%); Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar (4.5%) and hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer (3.8%).
Biden, speaking in Las Vegas, credited strong union support for his finish and claimed momentum going into South Carolina, where he has polled well among African-American voters, and Super Tuesday on March 3 when 14 states will hold primaries.
“I think we’re in a position now to move on in a way we haven’t been able to until now,” Biden said. “We’re going to win in South Carolina, and then Super Tuesday, and we are on our way.”
Biden vowed to protect and expand the Affordable Care Act and to protect the 100 million Americans with pre-existing conditions. That protection and others in the Affordable Care Act will not be taken away in his administration – a fear among members of Nevada’s powerful Culinary Workers Union, who have an enviable health care plan that covers dental and vision care.
“I promise you it will not be. It will be expanded on,” Biden said.
Buttigieg issued a statement congratulating Sanders but warning voters that the senator’s ideological rigidity excludes many Americans.
“We can prioritize either ideological purity or inclusive victory,” Buttigieg said in a statement. “We can either call people names online, or we can call them into our movement. We can either tighten a narrow and hardcore base or open the tent to a new, broad, big-hearted American coalition.”
Warren, campaigning in Seattle, thanked Nevada caucus-goers for keeping her in the race. Since Wednesday night’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas, 250,000 people have given her campaign $25, and she has raised $9 million, Warren said.
“We have a lot of states to go, and right now I can feel the momentum,” she said, her voice raspy from to fervent campaigning ahead of the Nevada caucus.
She chided former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who did not register for the caucus, for skipping the Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada contests and took a indirect jab at Bernie Sanders’ idealism.
“The question has to be not just what we fight for, but what is our plan to get it done,” Warren said.
Nevada voters, collectively much more racially diverse and urban than voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, which are both more than 90% white, fanned out to 125 caucus sites to elect delegates from the county conventions. Those votes will eventually translate into delegates to the Democratic National Convention in July.
Pressure was high for a smooth process unlike in Iowa where an app chosen to manage the caucus and other problems led to late results and a demand for a recount from Sanders and Buttigieg.
Nevada Democrats had planned to use the same app Iowa Democrats used to compile results but scrapped that plan when it failed in Iowa. The Nevada party instead tallied results on iPads using Google Docs. Paper ballots back up the electronic tallies.
Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez stopped briefly by an at-large caucus site at the Bellagio Hotel on Saturday shortly before noon. He wasn’t ready to offer a guess as to when results wouls be available.
“It’s hard to give you a precise time when we’re going to report it,” he said outside the caucus ballroom. “We don’t know how many people are going to vote.”
Party officials did not respond to a request for comment Saturday night about the rollout of results.
At the Bellgaio Hotel earlier in the day, voters overwhelmingly chose Sanders. The at-large caucus included 123 voters, 76 of whom wound up in Sanders’ corner, and 45 in Biden’s.
Anne Olah went to the Bellagio as a supporter for Elizabeth Warren, but she left a Joe Biden supporter.
“Blue no matter who,” said Olah, who has lived in Las Vegas 26 years and works as a floral designer at Bellagio. “We’ve got to get this moron out of office.”
Olah had to switch from Warren to Biden when she was among just six Bellagio caucus attendees who chose Warren – far below the 19 needed to stay viable. In a second alignment, Olah chose Biden along with 44 other people. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was the big winner at Bellagio, garnering support from 76 voters in the end.
No other candidate made it past the first round of votes.
Corliss Gains, 61, has lived in Las Vegas for 14 years and worked in housekeeping at Bellagio for 12. She caucused for Steyer originally, because although he is a billionaire, she likes what he says about protecting people like her.
“He seems to care more about the underclass,” Gains said.
Steyer was also outside the ballroom. He started calling for a $15 minimum wage in 2012, supports a wealth tax and wants to break the “corporate stranglehold” on the nation, the hedge fund billionaire said.
“I’m an outsider, but so is everybody else in America who lives outside the Beltline,” he told reporters.
Turnout has been high in early Nevada voting this week. Almost 75,000 people cast votes, according to the Democratic Party.
Sanders had widened his lead in national polls this week.
Real Clear Politics’ national polling average shows Sanders has the support of 29% of Democratic voters; Biden has 17%; former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who did not register for the Nevada caucus, 15%; Warren 12%; Buttigieg 10%, Klobuchar 7% and Steyer 2%.
An Emerson College national poll released Wednesday showed Sanders with 29% support nationally among likely Democratic primary voters, followed by Biden with 22% and former New York City Mayor Bloomberg with 14%. Warren saw 12% support, then Buttigieg with 8%. Six percent in the poll chose Klobuchar, the final debate qualifier.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll out Tuesday also shows Sanders leading all comers with 27% support. Biden came in at 15% in that poll, while Bloomberg and Warren tied with 14%. Buttigieg garnered 13% in the NBC poll, while Klobuchar polled at 7%.
The next Democratic debate will be on Tuesday in South Carolina, with that state’s caucus taking place on Feb. 29.