A win in Saturday’s Nevada caucuses gave presidential candidate Hillary Clinton a two-for-three record in Democratic nominating contests so far.
Clinton defeated Illinois Sen. Barack Obama by nearly 6 percentage points, getting 51 percent of precinct delegates to Obama’s 45 percent, in a massive, all-out effort by both campaigns that defied even the most optimistic predictions for turnout in Nevada’s first-time early caucuses.
Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards’ campaign was dealt a severe blow with his showing of less than 4 percent.
“I guess this was how the West was won,” a raspy-voiced Clinton told a crowd of supporters at the Planet Hollywood Resort on Saturday afternoon.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting late Saturday, Clinton had earned the support of 5,355 of the 10,938 total precinct delegates at stake. It was her second straight win after defeating Obama in New Hampshire on Jan. 8. Obama’s campaign argued, however, that he scored more delegates to the national nominating convention as the result of a complex formula that gives more weight to certain parts of the state.
Clinton even took the majority of delegates in seven of the nine controversial at-large precincts, the special sites for Strip workers that her campaign had complained were unfair because they were bound to be flooded with members of the Culinary union, which endorsed Obama.
“I am particularly grateful to all of the members of the Culinary union who stood with me today,” Clinton told the Planet Hollywood crowd. “But I want to say that we will all be united in November to defeat the Republicans.”
The Nevada Democratic caucuses drew nearly 116,000 participants, a sky-high turnout that Clinton called “an extraordinary success for Nevada and the Democratic Party.”
“I know we will build on what we have achieved here today and continue to make it clear here in Nevada and across the West that the Democrats, we’re the problem-solvers, we have the answers … to keep our country strong and move with confidence and optimism into the future,” Clinton said.
She then shook hands and embraced supporters, working the crowd with her husband, former President Clinton and daughter Chelsea.
All three Clintons had given Nevadans the hard sell during the past week, particularly Hispanics and Culinary members. Based on the final tally and independent polling, their efforts paid off.
According to exit polling by MSNBC, Clinton had an edge with Hispanic voters, who made up 14 percent of caucus-goers and favored her by 65 percent to Obama’s 20 percent. That bloc nearly neutralized the black vote, which made up 15 percent of caucus-goers and went for Obama by 72 percent to Clinton’s 18 percent.
The exit polls found that Clinton edged out Obama among union households, 43 percent to 39 percent. But she was most dominant among women, with a 52-30 advantage over Obama, and women made up nearly 60 percent of those who attended the caucuses.
Obama left the state before the caucusing began Saturday morning after making his final campaign stop at The Mirage, where he toured the employee area and met workers.
After Clinton was declared the winner, the Obama campaign released a statement: “We ran an honest, uplifting campaign in Nevada that focused on the real problems Americans are facing, a campaign that appealed to people’s hopes instead of their fears,” the campaign said. “That’s the campaign we’ll take to South Carolina and across America in the weeks to come.”
South Carolina holds a Democratic primary this coming Saturday.
Pessimists said the Nevada caucuses, which the state Democratic Party and the candidates spent more than a year promoting, might draw fewer than 40,000, leaving the state with egg on its face. That would have represented less than 10 percent of registered Democrats in Nevada.
Instead, more than a quarter of the number of registered Democrats showed up, vindicating Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who was thought to be wildly optimistic when in November he predicted 100,000.
“We were thrilled,” Nevada Democratic Party Chairwoman Jill Derby said. “This is off the charts. The biggest number we would have dared (predict) was 50,000.”
She pointed out that Nevada’s turnout was about what Iowa Democrats got this year, percentage-wise, even though Iowa has been holding caucuses for 30 years.
Because of the large turnout, precincts were overwhelmed and many had to improvise paper forms for candidate preferences. Derby said that was a problem she was happy to have.
Rumors abounded of voters being intimidated or otherwise mistreated by opposing campaigns. The Obama campaign, rather than concede defeat, vowed to investigate such claims.
“We currently have reports of over 200 separate incidents of trouble at caucus sites, including doors being closed up to 30 minutes early, registration forms running out so people were turned away, and ID being requested and checked in a nonuniform fashion,” campaign manager David Plouffe said.
He said the improprieties combined with Clinton campaign “efforts to confuse voters” and urged people to call a special hot line to report such incidents.
Derby said representatives of each campaign were present at every site and could report improprieties to a hot line staffed by dozens of people.
Derby said she didn’t believe such incidents would have had an effect on the nearly 6-point difference between the top two candidates.
Although this is the first Nevada caucus to come early enough in the presidential campaign to make a difference, Nevada Democrats have had caucuses in the past.
In 2004, they were held in February and they drew about 9,000 people.
Clinton supporter Mike Ginsburg, 36, is one of the few who remembers that experience. Four years ago, three people, including himself, showed up to his precinct in Henderson. On Saturday, Ginsburg was one of 137 caucus-goers.
Ginsburg said Clinton won his precinct with 10 delegates to Obama’s 4.
In Iowa, ties are settled with a coin flip. Nevada Democrats decided to settle them with decks of cards.
First-grade teacher Linda Bean, 52, was the Clinton precinct captain who drew a card for her candidate at Bailey Middle School when Clinton and Obama each had 29 supporters in the room.
The Obama captain drew a five.
Bean pulled a king of clubs, giving Clinton two of the precinct’s three delegates.
She plans to pass on the card and a T-shirt from the campaign to her 5-year-old grandson, Bobby.
“This is a historical moment,” Bean said. “We (women) are just so much closer,” to the White House.
Jason Sise, an ironworker at CityCenter, ended his shift Saturday morning and walked to the Bellagio. A 2006 transplant from Michigan, Sise registered for the first time as a Democrat to support Obama.
The caucus brought casino workers of all types together for the event. Almost everyone questioned said it was their first time participating in a caucus.
Anthony Edwards, a Culinary member and a Bellagio guest services worker, handed out red Obama-Culinary T-shirts and worked to get uncommitted delegates to Obama’s side of the aisle.
He couldn’t convince Jack Penafiel, who works in the Bellagio horticulture department. Penafiel didn’t mind taking the time off to support Clinton.
A native of Ecuador, Penafiel said he became a U.S. citizen five years ago.
“I have a daughter and Hillary is an inspiration,” he said. “I have a woman boss, so why not a woman president? That’s why I’m here.”
Donna Vivirdito, who manages the Cirque du Soleil gift shop in the Bellagio, also caucused for Clinton. During the past week she met both former President Clinton and Chelsea Clinton at the hotel.
“I’m here to support Hillary,” Vivirdito said. “I made a promise to President Clinton that I would.”
The 60,000-member Culinary union had been seen as a political powerhouse and potential kingmaker. It long has thrown its weight around in state and local races in Nevada.
But Culinary and its international parent, Unite Here, didn’t endorse a candidate until Jan. 9, after the New Hampshire primary, giving the union just over a week to mobilize and persuade its members.
D. Taylor, Culinary’s secretary-treasurer, said if he learned a lesson from the caucuses, it was “the ferocity of national campaigns, and the power of a president of the United States outside a caucus site shaking hands as people were going in.”
Taylor saw the upside of the caucus.
“I really want to congratulate the Democratic Party,” he said. “I don’t think anybody in their wildest dreams expected the turnout they got, and they did a great job. And I want to congratulate Hillary Clinton, who ran a very, very aggressive, hard campaign.”
He said he didn’t see a loss for the union.
“Polling had Obama down by about 20, and he lost by 5,” he said. “Maybe we didn’t have enough time, but you’ve got to deal with the cards you’re dealt, and it was a wonderful experience.”
Clinton’s Nevada campaign chairman, Rory Reid, said the victory would “resound across the country and give her momentum as she continues to work toward the nomination.”
He predicted no bad blood between the union and other usual allies that were pitted against each other.
Reid’s other title with the Clinton campaign is senior adviser on Western issues, and he said he would continue to help the campaign however he could.
“Iowa is becoming a distant memory for people,” he said. “Hillary’s candidacy is gathering steam.”
Review-Journal writers Francis McCabe and Howard Stutz contributed to this report. Contact reporter Molly Ball at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 387-2919.Caucus Day in Nevada slideshow