LAS VEGAS — Hillary Clinton edged out Bernie Sanders on Saturday in Nevada’s caucuses, capitalizing on a more diverse Democratic electorate to propel her to a crucial win in her presidential bid.
Clinton prevailed in the third contest of the primary campaign with the backing of women, union workers, minorities and voters who are certain that the former secretary of state will have a better shot of winning in November, according to entrance polls.
Marvin Teske, a 53-year-old security guard at a Reno casino, said he worried that Sanders would have trouble winning in the fall. The Vermont senator largely appeals to white liberals, a relatively narrow swath of the Democratic Party.
“As far as being too far left, I agree with a lot of the stuff he has to say. But the problem I have is that all the stuff he is promising is never going to happen,” Teske said. “I’ve always liked Hillary.”
The Clinton victory in Nevada underscored the challenge for Sanders as the campaign shifts to Southern states, including South Carolina on Feb. 27. Polling shows minority voters, a crucial bloc of the Democratic electorate, heavily favoring Clinton.
After three contests, Clinton has a narrow win in Iowa, a double-digit loss in New Hampshire and now momentum from Nevada that should attract the support of many of the Democratic superdelegates. She has won over a number of the 714 superdelegates as both candidates push toward the 2,383 needed to win the party nod.
In Nevada, thousands packed schools, casinos and hotels to vote, including scores of first-time caucus-goers who favored Sanders. The state party said more than 31,000 registered online to participate.
At stake in Nevada are 35 delegates. In 2008, Clinton won the popular vote in the state, but then Illinois Sen. Barack Obama picked up one more delegate, due to the quirky nature of the caucuses.
Clinton installed staff on the ground last spring, but Sanders’ message of combating income inequality appeared to resonate in a state where many voters are still struggling to rebound after years of double-digit unemployment.
Entrance polls of voters found that a third said the economy was their major concern, while a quarter cited income inequality — the centerpiece of the Sanders’ campaign.
“If Ronald Reagan can smash the American Dream from right field, then Bernie can build it back up from left field,” said Dale Quale, a 60-year-old unemployed former slot machine technician who estimated that he had made 800 phones calls for the Vermont senator before the caucus.
Whites were split between the two candidates. Sanders did well with self-identified independents and two-thirds of those participating in a caucus for the first time.
The candidates spent their final hours before the caucuses furiously trying to drive up turnout among their supporters.
Clinton almost crossed paths with Sanders at Harrah’s casino Saturday morning less than an hour before the caucuses began. Sanders slipped into an employee cafeteria to shake hands with workers. About 10 minutes later, Clinton came in to do the same.
Significant spending by Sanders on paid media and staff helped his campaign make inroads into the Latino and African-American communities, which make up a significant portion of the Democratic electorate in the state.
In recent months, Sanders spent slightly more than Clinton on television and radio ads in the state, investing $4 million to her $3.6 million, according to advertising tracker Kantar Media’s CMAG, and has more staff on the ground.
The polling survey was conducted for AP and the television networks by Edison Research.
This report was written by Ken Thomas and Lisa Lerer of the Associated Press
Associated Press writer Nicholas Riccardi contributed to this report from Las Vegas.