In this edition: The new Democratic odds after Iowa, the big left-wing victory over the Culinary Workers Union, and Tom Steyer returns to the debate stage.
If you think waiting for Nevada results is tedious, just wait until the California primary, and this is The Trailer.
LAS VEGAS — Iowa was a historic debacle. New Hampshire was a little too close. Nevada was something else for Bernie Sanders: a blowout that revealed both the scale of his new coalition and the crabs-in-a-barrel inability of other Democratic candidates to catch him.
The Nevada results have not reset the race, but they've clarified it, revealing the strengths of some candidates, the shrinking chases of most others and how one good debate performance can rattle everything.
“Tío Bernie!” That was the nickname Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York bestowed on Sanders at his post-heart-attack comeback rally in Queens. It appeared on T-shirts and got chanted at rallies — all the way through the raucous downtown party that Sanders volunteers held in Las Vegas after the vote. Sanders earned it, dominating with Latino voters in a way that could ripple through the next month's primaries.
There has been a lot of attention paid to constituencies that Sanders has lost ground with. Latinos aren't one of them. The 2016 entrance poll of Nevada found Sanders winning 53 percent of Latino voters in a two-way race; this year’s entrance poll, in a six-way contest, found Sanders with 51 percent of the Latino vote. While he once edged out Hillary Clinton for Latino voters, in Nevada, he tripled the support of his nearest rival, Joe Biden, who pulled 17 percent of Latinos. Sanders had spent years appealing to Latino voters, organizers had spent months canvassing them in neighborhoods other candidates ignored, and it paid off.
The Latino vote is not a monolith; Sanders polls notably behind his national averages in Florida, where Cuban immigration has created a more conservative Latino electorate. But in Nevada, Sanders's Latino advantage was the biggest any candidate enjoyed with any demographic.
Biden's black voter advantage keeps shrinking. If the former vice president's campaign had a theme in Nevada, it was that nonwhite voters deserved a louder voice in the nomination process and that if they got one he would win. “Until now, we haven’t heard from the most committed constituency of the Democratic Party,” Biden argued on the night of the New Hampshire primary.
But that constituency is not rallying around Biden like it used to, or like he needs it to. According to the entrance poll, Biden won 39 percent of black voters in Nevada, a clear plurality and 12 points better than Sanders. But four years ago, Hillary Clinton won 76 percent of the black vote in Nevada, to just 22 percent for Sanders. The senator from Vermont actually increased his share of black support this year despite the divided field, to 27 percent.
Biden's coalition will struggle to win, or to put up big margins, without winning more black voters. In 2008, 78 percent of black South Carolina primary voters went for Barack Obama, and in 2016, 86 percent of them went for Hillary Clinton. Talk of a Biden “firewall” in the South is based, in part, on comparisons to candidates with much broader black support. (Biden has also dismissed “firewall” talk, telling CBS News on Sunday that it was the media, not him, setting expectations.)
Biden needs it, because he's struggling with white voters in this primary more than either of those eventual nominees. Biden won just 14 percent of Nevada's white voters, running behind former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg and tying Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Diverse Clark County was the only part of Nevada where Biden ran second; outside the mega-county, he ran fifth behind the field, according to exit polling and early results.
The path for the other white moderates is vanishing. Klobuchar and Buttigieg arrived in Nevada with momentum they got from New Hampshire, and converted into a few more points in the polls, mostly with white voters. Together, they won 33 percent of white voters and just 12 percent of nonwhite voters. White liberals and moderates are paying close attention to Klobuchar and Buttigieg. Other Democrats aren't.
Buttigieg came out of Nevada with a new theme, that the party can pick him as an alternative in a slog between Sanders and Mike Bloomberg, attacking “Sanders's vision of capitalism as the root of all evil that would go beyond reform and reorder the economy.” Klobuchar came out with a perfunctory speech, reminiscing to voters in Minnesota last night, again, about the snowstorm that nearly ruined her campaign launch 378 days ago.
The senator from Minnesota had a mixed week in Nevada, drawing some decent crowds but getting just as much attention for blanking on the name of Mexico's president during a Telemundo interview and spending two days off the trail for fundraisers. Elizabeth Warren's breakthrough debate performance sliced right through Klobuchar's gains; while the Minnesotan beat Warren by 12 points with voters who made their minds up “in the last month,” she lost to Warren by 13 points among voters who made up their minds after the debate. Before the debate, as the early vote totals revealed, Warren was on track for a collapse in Nevada. The debate pushed her back ahead of Klobuchar, just as the New Hampshire debate pushed Klobuchar ahead of Warren.
Adiós, caucuses. The same restructuring process that required caucus states to record their popular vote encouraged states to drop caucuses altogether. Most states did so — only North Dakota, Wyoming and three territories (American Samoa, Guam and the Virgin Islands) will hold caucuses that resemble Iowa’s and Nevada’s.
On the margins, that's not good for Sanders, even if he wins former caucus states such as Minnesota and Colorado next month. In Nevada, with 60 percent of precincts reporting, Sanders has carried around 33 percent of first-preference votes. But the Sanders turnout operation helped him dominate the county convention delegate count. A precinct with seven Sanders voters, one Biden voter, one Buttigieg voter and one Warren voter, for example, would have delivered every CCD to Sanders, as only he had crossed the 15 percent viability threshold.
That meant, for Sanders, that winning a third of the vote (so far) has been worth nearly half of the CCDs. In 2016, when caucuses picked hundreds of delegates, these rules were fantastic for Sanders. The upside for Sanders's opponents now is that the popular vote is more competitive, drawing out more unlikely voters.
Tom Steyer is still here. That same caucus math, which pushed Steyer far out of contention for delegates, made it look like the investor-turned-candidate had imploded. His support was actually more solid than it had been in either previous contest: Steyer is on track to win around 8 percent of all first-preference votes and 16 percent of the black vote. That's close to what the sparse public polling projected.
At one level, it's an indictment of Steyer's massive spending, which swamped every other Democrat in Nevada. But it suggests that Steyer really has made short inroads with black voters, enough to remain a factor in South Carolina, where he just qualified for Tuesday's debate. There were eight candidates for this nomination before Nevada, and there are eight candidates for the nomination today. The field is simply not shrinking, which is the biggest gift to Sanders of them all.
“Bernie Sanders decisively wins Nevada caucuses,” by Matt Viser
What the victory means.
“How Bernie Sanders dominated in Nevada,” by Jennifer Medina and Astead W. Herndon
How the victory happened.
“As Bernie Sanders’s momentum builds, down-ballot Democrats move to distance themselves,” by Mike DeBonis and Michael Scherer
Early jitters about sharing the ticket with a socialist.
“The Democratic establishment is broken,” by Edward-Isaac Dovere
Why the party isn't deciding.
“Sorry, I wrote this speech before I saw how we did in Nevada,” by Alexandra Petri
A tribute to the non-concession concession speech.
The fight for the first Southern primary.
“With little left to lose, Elizabeth Warren rolls the dice,” by Annie Linskey
A candidate off the ropes.
On the trail
LAS VEGAS — Joe Biden celebrated his finish in the Nevada caucuses with a rally at an IBEW union hall, where he showered praise on the labor movement. He even had praise for the Culinary Workers Union, which had declined to endorse any candidate but had urged its members to support candidates who opposed Medicare-for-all.
“The choices they had to make were ones that made a big difference,” Biden said. “I probably did awfully well with culinary workers.”
But it was Bernie Sanders, not Biden, who seemed to win over the culinary workers who the 60,000-member union had tried to turn against him. There were seven caucuses held at casinos on the strip, dominated by culinary workers; Sanders won five of them. He held his own at precincts around the union’s early-voting site. One-quarter of all Nevada caucus-goers came from a union household and, according to the exit poll, Sanders won those voters by 13 points.
“It’s vindicating,” said Marcie Wells, a union member who had vocally supported Sanders and clashed with union leadership. “Health care is a human right. It shouldn’t be a luxury. It shouldn’t be something that union members feel some kind of elitism about, as long as they can physically meet the demands of their jobs.”
The union’s weeks-long effort to stop Sanders was largely a disaster. The union welcomed Sanders to Nevada by claiming that his supporters had been harassing union members over the literature they were handing out, warning them that Medicare-for-all would destroy their union health-care plans.
“We are two women of color who are being attacked,” said Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Argüello-Kline after the union held a rally for workers picketing the Palms casino and resort, an event on the morning of the Nevada debate.
Noticeably, that rally drew every Democratic candidate except Sanders. Well into Saturday morning, the union was campaigning against Sanders, with a compare-and-contrast handout reporting that everyone but Sanders and Elizabeth Warren would “protect culinary healthcare.” Warren would “replace” it, according to the handout, while Sanders — who also intends to replace the insurance with expanded benefits — would “end” it.
“Some politicians want to take our healthcare away,” the handout read. “WE SAY NO WAY.”
Sanders canvassers had worked to blunt the impact of that messaging. Yonidia Hernandez, a housekeeper and union member, said that she had been discouraged by union leadership from sharing Sanders messaging with fellow workers and spent plenty of time contradicting the union’s anyone-but-Sanders pitch.
“We’re very focused on trying to give the facts to people,” she said through an interpreter.“ Yes, we have excellent health care, but with the Bernie plan, it would be better.”
The Sanders campaign, which has spent the better part of a year training and locating Latino supporters in Nevada, was ready on caucus day with organizers who could translate the campaign’s messaging to people who did not speak English.
“The union and the members have some different ideas,” said Jose Alvarez, a union organizer who was supporting Sanders, before heading into the caucus room at the Bellagio hotel and casino. “It’s up to us to make up our own minds.”
In the end, they did: Sanders was strong in every caucus with a high participation of Culinary Workers Union members. Instead of slowing Sanders down or sending a message about the political risks of single-payer health care, Culinary ended the week as a small speed bump that didn’t affect the trajectory of the Nevada race. Its statement on the race mentioned the union’s campaign to protect its health care; it did not mention who had won the caucuses.
Pete Buttigieg, “Progress.” This is a little historic: the first negative ad, running on TV, made by one 2020 Democrat to attack another. In it, a narrator warns that Bernie Sanders's health insurance dreams would “eliminate private insurance” and kick “22 million seniors off of Medicare Advantage,” while Buttigieg offers a painless alternative of optional Medicare. Starting at the past week's debate and continuing with his speech in Nevada, Buttigieg has reintroduced himself as the competent, moderate alternative to Sanders. But this ad will run in South Carolina, a state where weakening Sanders might benefit Joe Biden, not Buttigieg.
South Carolina primary (CBS News/YouGov, 1,238 likely voters)
Joe Biden: 28% (-17)
Bernie Sanders: 23% ( 8)
Tom Steyer: 18% ( 16)
Elizabeth Warren: 12% (-6)
Pete Buttigieg: 10% ( 6)
Amy Klobuchar: 4% ( 3)
Tulsi Gabbard: 1% (-)
This pollster had not been in the field since late 2019, when Biden's command of South Carolina was solid. Since then, Biden has slipped into a narrow lead with black voters: 35 percent of them back him, 24 percent back Steyer, and 23 percent back Sanders. One reason for the slippage: 39 percent of all voters now see Biden as less likely to become the nominee, after he badly lost the first few contests.
Minnesota primary (Mason-Dixon, 500 likely voters)
Amy Klobuchar: 29%
Bernie Sanders: 23%
Elizabeth Warren: 11%
Joe Biden: 8%
Pete Buttigieg: 3%
Mike Bloomberg: 3%
Tulsi Gabbard: 1%
The first poll of this state since Klobuchar got out of New Hampshire finds her in the lead, which is progress: Sanders easily won the state in 2016, and Warren has held a larger Minnesota rally than Klobuchar has. But there are few polls of Super Tuesday states, and they get harder to conduct and analyze all the time, as voters begin casting early ballots. Already, tens of thousands of Minnesotans have voted in this primary, during a period when Klobuchar was riding higher and Biden and Warren were written off.
And then there were seven, again. Tom Steyer, yanked off the Nevada debate stage after failing to get delegates or poll numbers that matched the DNC requirements, has qualified for Tuesday's debate in Charleston, S.C.
He did so on the strength of two DNC-approved polls in South Carolina, a Winthrop poll and the latest poll from CBS News. (More about that below.) Steyer's long, expensive work in the first Southern primary, with an endorsement of reparations for the descendants of slaves, have won him a following with black voters.
“Tom will demonstrate that he is the only candidate who can expose Trump on the economy, put together a diverse coalition that can win in November, and break the corporate stranglehold over our government,” Steyer campaign manager Heather Hargreaves said in a statement.
The primary campaign has moved on to South Carolina, with every Democrat planning to spend at least a few days there ahead of Saturday's vote. The state party will welcome them to Charleston tomorrow with a “First in the South” fundraising dinner, and they'll spend most of Tuesday preparing for their debate in that city.
Bernie Sanders. He'll arrive in Charleston for a CNN town hall.
Joe Biden. He'll hold a “community event” for supporters in Charleston.
Pete Buttigieg. He'll join striking McDonald's workers on a picket line, then hold a Charleston town hall, then a CNN town hall.
Elizabeth Warren. She'll hold an organizing event with Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.).
Tom Steyer. He'll hold a breakfast meet-and-greet in Hilton Head.
Mike Bloomberg. He'll get his first CNN town hall while in Charleston.
Tulsi Gabbard. She'll hold a Tuesday town hall in Virginia Beach.
Did Joe Biden get arrested in South Africa, or didn't he? That was not a question anybody was asking until the past few weeks, when Biden, refocusing his campaign on diverse states, began describing how a trip to South Africa in the 1970s took a turn.
“I came back from South Africa, trying to see Nelson Mandela and getting arrested for trying to see him,” Biden told voters at a Tuesday evening event in Las Vegas's Chinatown.
As Katie Glueck and Thomas Kaplan reported, Biden had claimed three times in seven days to have been arrested for attempting to meet Mandela. He had not made that claim before, not even in a 2007 memoir that touched on the Africa trip. But the story he is telling now is dramatic.
In one telling, shared in South Carolina, Biden said he was arrested alongside then-U. N. Ambassador Andrew Young “on the streets of Soweto trying to get to see him” on Robben Island, which he mistakenly called Robbens Island. In another, Biden recalled a freed Mandela making a diplomatic visit to Washington and thanking Biden, who had “got arrested trying to see” him.
The story is head-scratching, and the Biden campaign has not responded to questions about its veracity. There's the reference to Soweto, a township hundreds of miles away from the prison at which Mandela was held; there's the fact that the arrest of a U.S. senator on a delegation visit would have made international news; there's the prior Biden record on the trip, which did not mention an arrest.
“We went to meet with some anti-apartheid supporters in South Africa, mostly the English business community at the time,” Biden said in 2013, after signing a condolence book for the late Mandela. “Obviously, no one [was] able to see him on Robbens Island, but making our case. And after he became president, he came to see me, and thanked me, along with everyone else on that trip, for supporting sanctions against apartheid.”
Did the visit happen? Again, the campaign has not explained the remark, and Biden has not taken questions about it. A sit-down interview for Sunday's “Face the Nation” did not bring up the Mandela stories, and a Sunday gaggle with reporters focused on local media, which did not ask about the stories.
Social media has not been so genteel. Shaun King, a surrogate for Bernie Sanders who has compiled examples that he says show Biden exaggerating his record of civil rights activism, posted a video of Biden's remarks and accused him of “completely fabricating” the story. King has repeatedly spoke of Sanders's arrest at a housing discrimination protest (an image of Sanders being hauled away by cops is available as a T-shirt), so the campaign may lean into this contrast.
… two days until the 10th Democratic debate
… six days until the South Carolina primary
… nine days until Super Tuesday
… 16 days until Super Tuesday II
… 21 days until the 11th Democratic debate
… 23 days until Super Tuesday III