US Elections 2016

Nevada firewall or tie-breaker for Clinton, Sanders

Nevada is looming as a turning point in the increasingly competitive contest between Mrs Hillary Clinton (left) and Senator Bernie Sanders.
Nevada is looming as a turning point in the increasingly competitive contest between Mrs Hillary Clinton (left) and Senator Bernie Sanders.PHOTOS: EPA, REUTERS

What's next for the candidates?

LAS VEGAS • After Mrs Hillary Clinton's overwhelming defeat in New Hampshire by Senator Bernie Sanders on Tuesday, eight days after she barely won the Iowa caucuses, Nevada state is looming as a turning point in their increasingly competitive contest, offering critical tests of the two candidates' strengths.

Nevada voters have a long, warm history with Bill and Hillary Clinton, and the Clintons hope that the western state will be a firewall against Mr Sanders.

After his solid showing in two overwhelmingly white states, Mr Sanders will have an opportunity to answer the central question for many Democrats trying to judge whether he is more than a particularly strong early-contest protest candidate.

Nevada is as racially diverse as Iowa and New Hampshire are not. About 20 per cent of the Democratic electorate in Nevada is Hispanic and 13 per cent African-American. In Mr Sanders' home state of Vermont, more than 95 per cent of voters are white.

For Mrs Clinton, Nevada offers a chance to put her campaign on solid footing after a staggering double-digit defeat in New Hampshire that stirred new concerns among Democrats about her political strengths.

She opened her first office here last April, six months before Mr Sanders. Her national campaign manager, Mr Robby Mook, ran Nevada for Mrs Clinton in 2008 when she narrowly won the popular vote.

"Nevada will either be a potential firewall or a potential tie- breaker," said Ms Rebecca Lambe, the senior strategist for Senate minority leader Harry Reid, a Democrat. "It really is the first test there is of how effective you are going to be in mobilising the Democratic coalition in a general election."

Mr Sanders' senior adviser, Mr Tad Devine, said that campaign workers from Iowa, where the senator nearly tied with Mrs Clinton, were being flown to Nevada to beef up a 90-person operation already in place.

Mrs Clinton's advisers declined to disclose the size of their paid staff in the state.

Mr Devine said that Nevada presents a "fair test" of Mr Sanders' potential national appeal. "Now we are moving into a different region in the country, a much more diverse group of voters."

On the economic front, Nevada endured severe turmoil during the recent recession. Vast tracts of housing developments were abandoned as the mortgage foreclosure crisis sent new homeowners fleeing; unemployment soared into the double digits; and projects on the Las Vegas Strip were abandoned.

The economy has turned around to a large extent.

But memories of that brutal time endure and could create a political environment ripe for Mr Sanders. His campaign has highlighted the issues of income disparity and Wall Street abuses in television advertisements here - ads which proved powerful in New Hampshire.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2016, with the headline 'Nevada firewall or tie-breaker for Clinton, Sanders'. Print Edition | Subscribe