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Nevada Caucuses Latest

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Out of Nevada, results have been coming in from the state's Democratic caucuses. The Associated Press has just projected a winner - that is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders was already building momentum as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination after a strong showing in the Iowa caucuses and a victory in the primary in New Hampshire. This result in Nevada will only bolster his status. For more on what we know about the outcome in Nevada, we have NPR senior political editor Domenico Montanaro. We have NPR's Scott Detrow, who is with the Sanders campaign, and Asma Khalid, who's covering former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign in Nevada. Welcome to all of you. Thanks for being here.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Thanks, Michel.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey there.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hey there.

MARTIN: All right. So, Domenico, I'm going to start with you. What does this result mean for the race for the Democratic presidential nomination?

MONTANARO: Well, Bernie Sanders is clearly vaulted to be front-runner now. I mean, he has won the most votes out of Iowa. He won New Hampshire, has won Nevada. And he's still polling quite strong in South Carolina. And based on the entrance polls, he was able to expand beyond his loyal base of young voters and people who consider themselves very liberal. He overwhelmingly won Hispanics, and he did quite well with African American voters, just slightly behind Joe Biden. And what does that portend for South Carolina looking ahead? Because 61% of the electorate in 2016 in South Carolina were African Americans. Joe Biden did well with them today.

But, you know, Tom Steyer is looming out there. He spent a ton of money in not only Nevada - he spent about $16 million in Nevada. He spent about $20 million in South Carolina. He's really threatening to pull some of that support from the black community away from Joe Biden. Does Joe Biden's ceiling kind of come down and help Bernie Sanders to a win over the next week? We have a debate on Tuesday. We'll see how they wind up doing and whether that affects the results in South Carolina on Saturday.

MARTIN: Asma Khalid, what about that? I mean, you're currently covering the former vice president, Joe Biden. You were in Las Vegas. You were at the Biden event. What about that? I mean, wasn't Joe Biden looking to Nevada and South Carolina as the place to stop Bernie Sanders? So what did they say about that?

KHALID: Yeah. I mean, look. Here tonight, it was a victory party even though it's clear he was not the winner. Someone in the crowd as he began talking yelled out comeback kid. You know, it's sort of - frame of shaping the narrative. They have long said that he needed to do well and that he would do well as this contest moved on to more diverse states. They see a strong-ish finish in Nevada as being possible to vault them into South Carolina.

To be totally blunt, I think I'm a little skeptical, though, of that narrative, in part because the demographics of Nevada more closely mirror the demographics in California and Texas, which are two very large Super Tuesday states. I think that when you look at Bernie Sanders really across the board support from different demographic groups, it's not sufficient to just do well with, say, voters over the age of 65 or to sort of have a slim lead with black voters. That's just not going to be sufficient.

MARTIN: At least they still have a deejay. So there's at least that. OK. Let's go to Scott Detrow now, who's covering Senator Bernie Sanders. What does Bernie Sanders have to do going forward? So clearly he's gotten - kind of got the wind at his back at this point. But South Carolina is a different place than Nevada. There isn't a strong union infrastructure like you have in Nevada. It is a more conservative state. It's more socially conservative. What does he have to do going forward, Scott?

DETROW: Well, I think what he has to do is build on what happened in Nevada. We have an a projection from the Associated Press. We still have a lot more results to come in. But I think it's pretty clear based on what we do know about the results that we've seen that Bernie Sanders is going to win support from far more than the about 25%, 26% that he won the New Hampshire primary with and about the same amount that he basically tied Iowa with. There was a lot of question of, can Bernie Sanders' coalition grow? And at least in Nevada, a state that he organized well in, that he has a lot of things going for him in, the answer is yes.

So the question is, what happens in South Carolina and beyond that? Because the Sanders campaign is kind of looking past South Carolina to the March 3 states. Can he win the big bulk of delegates at stake in California and Texas and Colorado and Virginia and a whole bunch of states? California and Texas specifically are states where Sanders has spent a lot more money on advertising and organizing than any other Democrat other than former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who finally actually jumps into the race that day.

MARTIN: And Bernie Sanders is clearly the front-runner and there is acknowledgement from that from another candidate. We're going to hear from mayor - former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who spoke just a few moments ago. Let's listen to what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PETE BUTTIGIEG: And I congratulate Senator Sanders on a strong showing today knowing that we celebrate many of the same ideals. But before we rush to nominate Senator Sanders in our one shot to take on this president, let us take a sober look at what is at stake for our party, for our values and for those with the most to lose. There is so much on the line. And one thing we know for sure is that we absolutely must defeat Donald Trump and everything that he represents in November.

(APPLAUSE)

MARTIN: Let's go back to Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, what are your thoughts about that?

MONTANARO: Look. The fact is Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, they've made this bet. They've bet that opposing "Medicare for All" is good politics, right? They look at the polling. They see that a majority of the country doesn't really like it. They don't - they have an unfavorable opinion of it. Guess what, though? You know who does have a favorable opinion of it? Democrats. And in the first three states, we've seen that. And in Nevada, 62% of people said that they are in favor of replacing private health insurance with a government plan.

So that really puts someone like Buttigieg or Biden or Klobuchar or any others who are against Medicare for All in a real tough position because they're trying to sell that as an electability factor. But Bernie Sanders overwhelmingly won today with those saying that they wanted somebody who agreed with them on the issues.

MARTIN: And, Scott, to that point, I mean, before the vote today, there was a lot of conversation about whether the culinary workers, for example, who have fought hard for their health plans - who did not endorse, it has to be said, but who have fought hard for their health plans, whether they would support somebody who does support a Medicare for All plan. And we don't know exactly how the vote broke down, but it does appear that they would. And so do you want to shed more light on that and piggyback on what Domenico just said?

DETROW: Yeah. The best evidence that we have right now is a lot of the big caucus sites at some of the big casinos on the Vegas Strip where where Culinary Union Workers caucused en masse went pretty broadly for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. And I think you can see there a microcosm of what's playing out on a national level with the Democratic Party, where a lot of national leaders, a lot of longtime lawmakers, officeholders are deeply, deeply worried about what would happen if Bernie Sanders were the party's nominee.

They're particularly worried that the party would lose control of the House of Representatives in these Republican-leaning districts that they won in 2018 to give them control of the House. But at the same time, you have a lot of voters, a lot of rank-and-file voters who opinion polls show have a positive opinion of him, aren't completely turned off by the idea of socialism and would seemingly be fine with him as the nominee.

So I think there's a real difference of views here. I mean, yes, Buttigieg is making a good point that Sanders as the nominee would be a wildly different path for the Democratic Party, and there are a lot of risks there. The Sanders argument from supporters and people observing this who are pro-Sanders is that, listen, the country, the world even is in a very populist, anti-establishment mindset right now that has lasted. So maybe that is a better bet than somebody who's been in Washington for decades, who is - well, I guess Sanders has - but you know what I mean, a traditional nominee of a Democratic Party.

MARTIN: Asma, do you want to pick up on that? I mean, Pete Buttigieg is obviously making the point that, as Scott and Domenico just said, that this is just the wrong path for Democrats more broadly. That has pretty much been Joe Biden's argument, that it's a kind of a reversal to the way things used to be as opposed to a sort of restructuring of things, you know, for the future. He's basically arguing - I mean, Joe Biden's basically been arguing that Donald Trump is kind of just an historical anomaly, an aberration, and that his goal in a way is to kind of continue the Obama era but basically continue what people think of as kind of normal politics. Does it seem that that was perhaps a bad bet and that people are much more open to A more radical - if I can use that word - message than perhaps he anticipated?

KHALID: I think that if we're to look at the results of Nevada at least, perhaps that's an indication of what's happening. I mean, I also think that, really, Bernie Sanders had a lot of criticism - you can argue whether or not it was warranted or not - in 2016 for not having a particularly diverse coalition. I was talking with a Latina activist who's been very active, former Harry Reid staffer in Nevada. And she mentioned that, really, when you look at what Bernie Sanders has been able to do thus far this election cycle, he has built up a really effective multiracial coalition of working-class people.

And I think the challenge for someone like Pete Buttigieg is that, really, he hasn't proven that he has major successes with voters of color. And as we move into a state like South Carolina, I mean, if you're ideologically in sync with Joe Biden, Joe Biden has that built-in relationship with African American voters. I don't really see the path clearly forward for a candidate like Buttigieg.

MARTIN: Domenico, do you want to add to that?

MONTANARO: You know, I think everyone's going to start to have this conversation about whether or not Bernie Sanders can win. And that's going to be the thing that a lot of people are looking toward. You know, it's still very early. I mean, look. You know, only 2% of the delegates have been allocated after Iowa and New Hampshire. It'll only be another percent maybe after this. You know, and South Carolina just 5%. So look. There's a lot of game to be played, so to speak, especially with Super Tuesday. But that is going to be the real conversation that everyone's going to be having. Sanders supporters are going to be saying absolutely he can, and mainstream Democrats are saying they're really nervous about it.

MARTIN: And where does somebody like Elizabeth Warren fit in, who has been contesting that progressive lane, as we've been calling it, with Bernie Sanders? Where does she fit in?

MONTANARO: That's a really good question because Elizabeth Warren polls second to Bernie Sanders with progressives. She - in our poll - was the second - the top second choice pick. But most of that support came from Sanders people. So that makes it really difficult for her. And she's also competing with Pete Buttigieg with college-educated whites. So she's really in this vise. I think though we're going to see her try to establish her brand as the fighter, as someone who's more aggressive. You're going to see her even more aggressive at this Tuesday debate, hoping that that vaults her into a surprise finish in South Carolina and can help her - and her organization can help - on some issues.

MARTIN: And, of course, competing - we have to take a short break, but of course competing in South Carolina, Mayor Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, two billionaires, a lot to talk about. My colleagues are Domenico Montanaro, Scott Detrow and Asma Khalid. And I'm Michel Martin. And this is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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