What We Learned From the Nevada Caucuses

Sanders speaks to supporters during his Bernie 2016 Nevada Caucus Watch Party in Henderson, Nev., on Saturday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Sanders speaks to supporters during his Bernie 2016 Nevada Caucus Watch Party in Henderson, Nev., on Saturday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted February 21, 2016 at 5:14am

Hillary Clinton stabilized her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination by holding off a surging Sen. Bernard Sanders to win in Nevada on Saturday.  

Sanders was hoping to for a second straight victory after winning big in New Hampshire but Democratic strategists and operatives credited Clinton’s ground operation as the key to her success in a state she couldn’t afford to lose.  

Here’s what we learned from Nevada:

“Bernie significantly outspent Hillary and he still couldn’t pull out a win here, so that raises some serious questions about his viability as a candidate.

“It’s a huge win for Hillary’s organization and Bernie needs to prove he can win in states that are more reflective of the national electorate. As of now, there is no sign he’s equipped to do that.”

— Caitlin Legacki, a principal at the Democratic-leaning consulting firm Precision Strategies

“Secretary Clinton needed a win in Nevada and her campaign delivered. Caucuses are built for an insurgent candidate like Senator Sanders and his campaign invested heavily on the ground and in the air in Nevada. That Hillary has now won both small state caucuses, I think it’s a matter of time for the Sanders campaign.

“The race soon moves to bigger states that will be tough for Sanders. He can keep winning delegates and raising money but the math is going to fast become too difficult for him. He needs to rack up a couple of big wins like Hillary did in ’08 to keep a real race going past March and I don’t see that happening.”

— Achim Bergmann, a Democratic strategist who works in Nevada but wasn’t involved in either campaign. He’s also a veteran of Bill Clinton’s campaigns and was a Clinton-era Democratic National Committee official.

“Without Nevada, there was almost no shot at putting this race away on Super Tuesday. Now they can.”

— A Democratic Senate candidate’s campaign manager who asked for anonymity to speak candidly.

“The results today are a best-case scenario for Democrats.  Trump and Clinton are on their way to the party nominations. Clinton is best when she's feeling confident and strong – it will be hard to steal her momentum now.

— Martha McKenna, a Maryland-based Democratic consultant

“A loss would have been demoralizing for the Clinton campaign and caused endless amounts of second-guessing. That didn't happen. Now she's back in the pole position and the pressure shifts to Bernie to show he can win in States that reflect the diversity of the Democratic Party.

“Brooklyn [Clinton’s campaign HQ] has got some wind at her back.

— Doug Thornell, a Democratic strategist and managing partner at SKDKnickerbocker in Washington

Ramifications of a narrow HRC Nevada win? Bernie stays in, but Hillary can show her real strength by winning by 20 pts in SC.  

— Stuart Rothenberg (@StuPolitics) February 20, 2016

“There is still a Democratic primary going on, but it's clear that it won't have the ups and downs and twists and turns and the extreme positions that the Republicans have. Democrats are campaigning for president -- not for a spot on a reality show.”

 —  Holly Shulman, a former DNC press secretary

"It's easy to get consumed by spin about ‘expectations’ or how candidates did with various demographics, and ignore the real issue: Who is going to be the nominee of each party?

“While the identity of the Republican nominee seems in doubt, the Nevada results help Secretary Clinton add to her sizable lead in the delegate count.

“To become more than a ‘send a message’ candidate and actually become the party's nominee, Bernie Sanders can't just beat expectations.... he needs to win, and win by a significant margin.

“Obviously, that didn't happen in Iowa or Nevada, and the polls right now don't show that happening in South Carolina next week."

—  J.J. Balaban, a Philadelphia-based Democratic strategist

“Fire-retardant has hit the Bern.  The big question is where does Sanders go from here?

“With a win very unlikely in South Carolina, he needs a primary win in the next two to three weeks that is outside of New England for his campaign to maintain credibility and legitimacy.

“Michigan on the 8th of March may be where the Bern is reignited. But 17 days on the presidential primary campaign calendar is a very long time, and the fire can go very cold.

“It is looking more and more that the Cruz-Rubio battle is a murder-suicide in the making. Neither of them will get enough momentum to stop Trump.”

— Rick Ridder, a longtime Democratic strategist and former presidential campaign manager

Eric Garcia, Simone Pathé, Alex Roarty and Eli Yokley compiled this report

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