Clinton clinches Nevada in narrow victory

Mrs Clinton with her husband, former US president Bill Clinton, addressing her supporters at Caesar's Palace Casino after she was declared the winner in the Nevada caucus in Las Vegas on Saturday.
Mrs Clinton with her husband, former US president Bill Clinton, addressing her supporters at Caesar's Palace Casino after she was declared the winner in the Nevada caucus in Las Vegas on Saturday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has eked out a narrow win over Senator Bernie Sanders in the Nevada caucus, just enough to cancel out the clobbering she received in New Hampshire two weeks ago and restore her standing as the most likely presidential nominee of the Democratic Party.

The 52.7 per cent to 47.2 per cent victory on Saturday may be a less comfortable one than she would have liked, but it checked a lot of the right boxes for Mrs Clinton.

Entrance polls showed that she beat Mr Sanders among women, was competitive among white voters and, most importantly, won the non-white voter bloc decisively.

That includes winning the African-American vote by a 3-to-1 margin. The same poll had her losing the Latino vote to Mr Sanders but those results proved inconclusive as she triumphed in all the Latino districts.

The minority statistics are especially important because the contest heads next to South Carolina - a state where black voters form a majority of the Democratic Party base. They confirm the perception that Mr Sanders has problems appealing to non-white voters. Mrs Clinton had also tried in recent days to draw black support by portraying herself as the best person to carry on President Barack Obama's legacy.

Nevada - home to a significant population of Latinos working in gaming cities like Las Vegas and Reno - was also markedly more diverse than the states of Iowa and New Hampshire where the first two contests took place.

Mrs Clinton, arguably the candidate with the strongest Asia policy, had endured a difficult two weeks heading into Nevada, with observers citing her effective tie in Iowa and 22-point blowout in New Hampshire as evidence that her campaign was beginning to unravel.

It was thus a jubilant and relieved Mrs Clinton who greeted supporters in Las Vegas. "I am so, so thrilled and so grateful to all of my supporters out there. Some may have doubted us, but we never doubted each other. And this one's for you," she said to loud cheers.

And while Mrs Clinton congratulated her rival for a hard-fought race, she also could not resist taking a shot at him for being impractical and focusing too much on the issue of reining in Wall Street.

"The truth is, we aren't a single issue country. We need more than a plan for the big banks. The middle class needs a raise. And we need more jobs. We need jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced - jobs that provide dignity and a future," she said, using a line of attack that had begun in the lead-up to Nevada.

"Americans are right to be angry. But we're also hungry for real solutions," she added.

For his part, Mr Sanders cast the result as progress, pointing to deficits he had made up in a short time. But perhaps in recognition of the difficulty in winning enough African-American votes to overhaul Mrs Clinton's 24-point lead in South Carolina on Feb 27, he cast his sights on future contests.

"I believe that when Democrats assemble in Philadelphia in July, at that convention, we are going to see the results of one of the great political upsets in the history of the United States," he said.

Indeed, organisations partial to Mr Sanders saw the loss as merely a blip. "Three straight positive results prove that Bernie Sanders' grassroots campaign can win anywhere," said Democracy for America executive director Charles Chamberlain.

If there is a blemish on Mrs Clinton's win, it is that the narrow margins so far promise a long race. Projections show if she wins every remaining contest with current margins, she will not have gathered the 2,383 pledged delegates needed to sew up the nomination by the party convention in July, and will instead have to rely on the votes of party bigwigs known as superdelegates.

Jeremy Au Yong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2016, with the headline 'Clinton clinches Nevada in narrow victory'. Print Edition | Subscribe