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Nevada caucuses win would make Bernie Sanders a weak front-runner

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 2/18/2020 Susan Ferrechio
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New polling data suggest Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders could win the Nevada caucuses at the end of this week, but a victory may not improve his weak lead in a field of candidates who have, so far, failed to excite the Democratic electorate.

“I think Sanders is the favorite to win Nevada,” University of Nevada political science professor Eric Herzik told the Washington Examiner. “However, a ‘win’ will likely be far from commanding — maybe in the 30% range — as other candidates will be competitive.”

The cluttered field of Democratic presidential candidates has, so far, failed to produce a strong front-runner and Nevada’s Feb. 22 caucuses may fail anyone with a runaway victory.

A Las Vegas Review-Journal/AARP Nevada poll released Friday showed Sanders out front with 25% of the vote, followed by former Vice President Joe Biden, with 18%. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren followed in third place with 13% of the vote.

But 44% of voters aren’t interested in the top three candidates. The poll found 11% of likely caucus goers favor billionaire climate change activist Tom Steyer, while 10% support both Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Another 13% are undecided.

The poll was small — only about 400 likely caucusgoers were surveyed — but it showed Democratic voters haven’t unified around a favorite.

Biden was leading in Nevada polls taken in January but his status as a front-runner faded after he placed fourth in the Iowa caucuses and fifth in the New Hampshire primary.

Biden is hoping to stop his decline in Nevada with the help of union workers and the state’s significant base of Latino voters, who could help him secure a victory.

During a Thursday afternoon fundraiser in New York City, Biden told a group of donors he would first or second in place in the Nevada caucuses.

In a setback for Biden, Nevada’s influential Culinary Union, which represents 60,000 hotel and casino workers, announced Thursday it would not endorse a Democratic candidate.

But the organization took a jab at Sanders and Warren, warning in a flier distributed to its members that both candidates would eliminate the union’s popular healthcare plan with their "Medicare for all" agendas. The warning could ultimately steer critical union votes to Biden.

Both Biden and Sanders have invested money and staff in Nevada and Sanders performed well in the Silver State’s 2016 caucuses, narrowly losing to Hillary Clinton.

But Herzik pointed out the rest of the field is making gains in Nevada.

Buttigieg and Klobochar both come to Nevada with new momentum gained from their good performances in Iowa and Nevada. Their appeal to moderate voters will cut into Biden’s support.

Buttigieg has doubled his campaign staff in Nevada, Herzik said.

“Klobuchar is in the state and will certainly gain more attention, especially from female voters,” Herzik added. “Female voters are especially important in Nevada where both U.S. senators are women, half the congressional delegation are women, and the state legislature is majority female.”

The candidates will face off at a Feb. 19 debate in Las Vegas.

After Nevada, the field may become even more diluted when former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg begins competing, in the 14 Super Tuesday contests on March 3.

Bloomberg polls third nationally and has spent more than $350 million on campaign advertising but has yet to compete in a primary or caucus.

Polling in two Super Tuesday states show Bloomberg picking up support. A California poll gave Bloomberg 4.3% of the vote while Texas survey showed Bloomberg with 11.7%.

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