LAS VEGAS — Hillary Clinton edged out Bernie Sanders on Saturday in Nevada’s Democratic caucuses, capitalizing on a more diverse Democratic electorate to propel her to a critical win and give her momentum as the presidential campaign shifts toward the South.
“Thank you, Nevada, thank you so much!” Clinton told her supporters in a victory speech. “I am so thrilled and so grateful. Some may have doubted us, but we never doubted each other. This one’s for you.”
Sanders, who called to congratulate Clinton, said he was proud of his campaign, which turned a 25-point polling deficit into a close election.
“I am also proud of the fact that we have brought many working people and young people into the political process and believe that we have the wind at our back as we head toward Super Tuesday,” he said.
After a devastating, double-digit loss in New Hampshire, Clinton prevailed in Nevada with the backing of women, union workers, minorities, moderates and voters who are certain that the former secretary of state will have a better shot at winning in November, according to entrance polls.
A large majority of blacks supported Clinton, an outcome that bodes well for Clinton in upcoming Southern state primaries. Hispanics were relatively closely divided between the two candidates.
Alma Lopez, 45, was among a group of housekeepers from the Bellagio waiting to enter a caucus site at the nearby Caesars Palace hotel. Lopez and her co-workers broke into chants of “Hillary!” as they waited.
“She understands what it means to be a woman, a mother, a human being,” Lopez said.
Marvin Teske, a 53-year-old security guard at a Reno casino, said he worried that Sanders would have trouble beating the Republican nominee in the fall. The Vermont senator largely appeals to white liberals, a relatively narrow swath of the Democratic Party.
“As far as being too far left, I agree with a lot of the stuff he has to say. But the problem I have is that all the stuff he is promising is never going to happen,” Teske said. “I’ve always liked Hillary.”
The Clinton victory in Nevada underscored the challenge for Sanders as the campaign shifts to South Carolina on Feb. 27 and then the Super Tuesday states. Polling shows minority voters, a crucial bloc of the Democratic electorate, heavily favoring Clinton.
After three contests, Clinton has a narrow win in Iowa, the loss in New Hampshire and now momentum from Nevada that should attract the support of many of the Democratic superdelegates. She has won over a number of the 714 superdelegates as both candidates push toward the 2,383 needed to win the party nod.
Clinton’s win in Nevada means she will pick up most of the state’s delegates. With 35 at stake, Clinton will gain at least 18. Sanders will pick up at least 14.
Three delegates remain to be allocated, based on votes in the congressional districts.
Entrance polls of Nevada voters found that a third said the economy was their major concern, while a quarter cited income inequality — the centerpiece of Sanders’ campaign.
Whites were split between the two candidates. Sanders did well with self-identified independents and two-thirds of those participating in a caucus for the first time.
The polling survey was conducted for AP and the television networks by Edison Research.
Associated Press writer Nicholas Riccardi contributed to this report from Las Vegas.
The story has been corrected to reflect 35 delegates are at stake.
Copyright The Associated Press