NEVADA DEMOCRATIC CAUCUSES
WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton is finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. Not a full-throated victory cheer, but at least she can exhale.
Clinton scored her first clear win over Bernie Sanders Saturday, in the Nevada caucuses, her first victory in three tries. And strong support from blacks signals strength heading into South Carolina this week and Super Tuesday states just beyond.
But her narrow margin of victory overall and her loss among Latino voters specifically suggest surprising challenges and a possibly long slog for the Democratic presidential nomination.
"Some may have doubted us, but we never doubted each other," Clinton told supporters at a victory party. "And this one is for you."
The win was a comeback of sorts for the one-time dominating front-runner who just weeks ago had been expected to easily win the diverse state with help from the large Latino population and union workers. But she had to hold off a late surge from Sanders, fresh from a virtual tie in Iowa and a 22-point landslide in New Hampshire.
Sanders in Nevada showed he could broaden his appeal to minorities after doing well with white, rural voters in the first two states. The independent senator from Vermont won the Latino vote in Nevada, but he lost the overall nonwhite vote to the former secretary of state, who received strong support from black voters, according to preliminary entrance polls.
"Nevada was supposed to be a state 'tailor made' for the Clinton campaign, and a place she once led by almost 40 points," Sanders wrote in an email to supporters. "But today, we sent a message that will stun the political and financial establishment of this country: our campaign can win anywhere."
Still, Clinton is expected to do well in next Saturday's primary in South Carolina, as well as on Super Tuesday, March 1, where she leads in most of the 11 states that have contests.
In a sign that she thinks she's in very good shape in South Carolina, where blacks are likely to make up 55 percent of the vote, Clinton's first stop after leaving Nevada will be Texas, while her husband, former President Bill Clinton, heads to Colorado.
She is favored in Southern states with large black populations, but she may have trouble with other states with large Latino populations, including Texas. A new poll last week suggested the race in Colorado may have tightened.
Sanders isn't expected to go anywhere. He has said he will fight all the way to the Democratic convention in July. With an enthusiastic group of volunteers and a bank account full of money, he has no reason to stop.
Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who talks about launching a "political revolution," has successfully drawn on anger building in the country by those fed up with stagnant wages, companies sending jobs overseas and big money in politics.
Not surprisingly, Sanders, whose message of lifting up the underpaid, overworked American worker has been resonating with new and young voters disillusioned with Washington, won liberal and independent voters as well as those under 44 years of age.
Matthew Wilson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, said Clinton's narrow win in Nevada likely doesn't change anything. The race "will continue to slog on with her as the favorite, but him continuing to persist with no pressure to go gently into that good night."
Clinton's campaign had long hoped Nevada would be part of a firewall capable of halting Sanders' early momentum. But she saw her double-digit lead from December vanish as both campaigns engaged there.
With 94% of precincts counted, from the Associated Press