Las Vegas — Democratic presidential candidates head into their next nominating contest on Saturday in Nevada, with Bernie Sanders leading in polls taken since mid-February.
Nevada is the third state to hold a primary or caucuses and will be striving to avoid the chaos and confusion that plagued Iowa’s caucuses and delayed the reporting of results.
Sanders, who finished high in Iowa and New Hampshire, could get another big boost today. A strong finish could give him further momentum going into South Carolina next week and Super Tuesday a few days later.
The senator is so confident of his chances in Nevada that he spent most of Friday campaigning in California, which doesn’t vote until next month.
“I got news for the establishment — they can’t stop us,” Sanders said.
Pete Buttigieg, who also had strong finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, worries that Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, will end up alienating too many voters.
“He is the front-runner right now, by many measures,” Buttigieg told CBS News’ Ed O’Keefe on Friday, on the eve of the Nevada caucuses. “I’m the only candidate who has beaten him at all and that was by the slimmest of margins in the delegate count in Iowa.”
“We need to ask ourselves as a party whether we want that to be how we compete against Donald Trump or whether there’s a better way. I’m offering a better way,” he said.
Mike Bloomberg, who participated in his first Democratic presidential debate this week, isn’t on the ballot in Nevada and is focused on Super Tuesday states.
Joe Biden, however, spent Friday in Nevada hunting for last-minute support.
“Look, the good news is: the field is narrowing,” he said Friday at a campaign event. “The better news: you’re all taking really closer looks at the other guys now. You’re all taking a real good look. They’re not bad folks, they’re just not Democrats.” Bloomberg became a Republican when he ran for New York mayor, and Sanders is a democratic socialist.
Nevada matters for all the candidates, but it’s a key contest for Biden. The former vice president placed low in the field in Iowa and New Hampshire. A higher finish here could be reassuring to South Carolina Democrats who vote in a week. Biden has been leading there, but his margin has been narrowing.
Weeks ago, Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren were seen as powerful, likely contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, O’Keefe notes. However, they struggled to win support in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Warren and Amy Klobuchar are the only women now left in the race. Both have been fighting for momentum after the first two contests.
The caucuses come just days after fiery Democratic debate in Las Vegas on Wednesday, although it’s not clear what impact the debate will have, since so many Nevada Democrats voted early. Over 70,000 Nevadans cast their ballots in the state. Early voters ranked candidates in order of preference and their votes will be meshed with the caucuses today.
On Saturday, 200 sites across the state will host the presidential caucuses, including high schools, libraries, and even some hotels on the Las Vegas Strip.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.