Hillary Clinton Beats Bernie Sanders in Nevada Caucuses – New York Times

Hillary Clinton at a rally in Las Vegas on Friday.

LAS VEGAS — Buoyed by the support of enthusiastic workers in the city’s big casinos, Hillary Clinton defeated Senator Bernie Sanders in the Nevada caucuses on Saturday, thwarting his momentum and proving to an anxious Democratic Party that she maintains strong support among minority voters that she can carry to a general election.

Mrs. Clinton’s campaign breathed a sigh of relief on Saturday as the results of the often-unpredictable campaign began to roll in. At a caucus at the famed Caesar’s Palace, blackjack dealers, pit bosses, cooks and housekeepers excitedly declared their support for the former secretary of state.

“She’ll change immigration. She’ll change the economy. She’ll change todo!” said Dora Gonzalez, 54, a casino porter at the Bellagio, using the Spanish word for everything

“And she’s a mujer!” added her friend Elba Pinera, 51, and originally from Honduras, using the Spanish word for woman.

Mrs. Clinton had for months considered Nevada a haven that would provide a welcome shift from the mostly white electorates of New Hampshire and Iowa. But in recent weeks, Mr. Sanders’s populist message began to take hold and polls showed the two Democrats in a statistical dead heat. Her campaign, bracing for another loss, seemed to look beyond Nevada to the contest next weekend in South Carolina.

Still, early organizing in the state and a last-minute on-the-ground push by Mrs. Clinton’s campaign and its supporters paid off. And Mrs. Clinton, who is typically a reserved presence on the trail, seemed to embrace the quirkiness of campaigning in Las Vegas, posing for photographs with Britney Spears, who was in town for her show at Planet Hollywood, and even receiving the endorsement of 500 sex workers, mostly from Carson City brothels, who formed the “Hookers 4 Hillary” group.

Less than an hour before the caucuses began, Mrs. Clinton was shaking hands in the employee cafeteria at Harrah’s casino. “I need your help this morning, in the showroom at 11 a.m.,” she told the predominantly Spanish-speaking workers.

Mrs. Clinton’s victory was a serious setback for Mr. Sanders, who campaigned hard in Nevada in hopes that a surge of Latino and black voters would heed his call for a political revolution.

After soundly defeating Mrs. Clinton in predominantly white New Hampshire, Mr. Sanders was under pressure to show that he could attract the broad cross-section of Democrats necessary to win the party’s nomination.

Mr. Sanders did prove popular with many Hispanic voters, winning 53 percent of them to 45 percent for Mrs. Clinton in early entrance polls reported by CNN. But he fared poorly among African-American voters, earning support from only 22 percent of them, according to the entrance polls. Sanders advisers acknowledged on Saturday that his weak performance with African-Americans means he could face significant difficulties in the South Carolina primary on Saturday and the Super Tuesday states on March 1, many of which have large African-American populations.

In the five Nevada precincts with the highest percentages of African-American caucus goers, Mrs. Clinton swept, winning all 76 delegates.

The Nevada results were personally important for Mrs. Clinton, who struggled in 2008 to win caucus states, though she prevailed here against Barack Obama. In this campaign, she has won the two caucuses so far, here and in Iowa.

While her public schedule was relatively light, with just one rally per day, Mrs. Clinton poured herself into shaking hands and meeting the mostly minority workers who make the Las Vegas casinos run.

Interactive Feature | Live Updates From Nevada and South Carolina

The Clinton family was staying at Caesar’s Palace, and their daughter, Chelsea, dropped in on volunteers in the heavily Latino East Las Vegas area and knocked on doors in a working-class suburb.

And the Clintons blanketed the state with Latino surrogates, including Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas, the activist Dolores Huerta, the “Desperate Housewives” star Eva Longoria and the former Clinton administration official Henry Cisneros.

On Wednesday, when Mrs. Clinton first arrived here, she made a midnight visit to the employees’ quarters of Caesars Palace and asked for the workers’ support. “I flew in from Chicago, so before I went to my room, I said, ‘Well, who is still working?’” The answer? “A lot of people,” Mrs. Clinton said.

The strength and resiliency of Mrs. Clinton’s political organization is increasingly evident, as shown by her statewide operation here, which was put in place last spring — before Mr. Sanders had made his candidacy official — and ranged from the Las Vegas Strip to Indian reservations and subdivisions outside Reno.

The Culinary Workers Union, which represents 57,000 members, many of whom are Latino, declined to endorse a candidate. But on Thursday, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, who also remained neutral, said in an interview he had spoken to D. Taylor, the head of the union’s parent group, to make sure its members could have paid time off to participate in the caucuses, a move that operatives in the state believed helped tip the race in Mrs. Clinton’s favor. She overwhelmingly defeated Mr. Sanders in the caucuses that were held at six major Las Vegas casinos, including Harrah’s, the Wynn and New York-New York, which heavily draw working-class minority voters.

Her campaign had deep connections to the state: Robby Mook, her campaign manager, had served as her Nevada director when she narrowly defeated Mr. Obama here in 2008. Her current state director, Emmy Ruiz, delivered a victory in Nevada to Mr. Obama in his 2012 re-election campaign.

Before the 2008 election, Mr. Reid lobbied for Nevada to be among the early-voting states, arguing that its mix of urban and rural areas, and a population that is nearly half minority, could indicate how candidates would fare among a more diverse electorate. “If you’re my color and you start school, you’ll be in a minority in Clark County,” Mr. Reid said Thursday in an interview, referring to the state’s most populous county.

The state has just six electoral votes in the general election, but its population reflects the composition of other potential Western battlegrounds like Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.

In May, on her first trip to the state as a candidate for the 2016 nomination, Mrs. Clinton held a discussion with the children of undocumented immigrants and vowed to go further than Mr. Obama had to overhaul immigration. “When they talk about ‘legal status,’ that is code for ‘second class status,’” she said, referring to some Republican candidates’ proposals.

But in recent days, Mrs. Clinton and her surrogates have turned their criticism of immigration policy to her Democratic opponent, pointing to Mr. Sanders’s 2007 vote against legislation that would have given millions of undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. “Bernie, you weren’t with us in the past, and we aren’t with you now,” said Ms. Huerta.

Mr. Sanders said he voted against the bill because of a guest worker provision that was “almost akin to slavery” and that as president he would make immigration reform “a top priority.”

After weeks of shifting the focus of her message, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign seemed to hit a stride here, emphasizing her experience and her commitment to fighting for African-American and Hispanic voters. That message was accompanied by an intense attack on Mr. Sanders, questioning his capacity to deliver on his promises of major change, and also his commitment to African Americans and Latinos.

Herbert Gregory, 69, who has been a cook at Caesar’s for 22 years, said Mrs. Clinton’s experience as first lady, senator and secretary of state had earned his support.

“She’s more qualified than Bernie,” Mr. Gregory said as he waited in line to enter the ballroom where the caucus was to begin. “It’s very important, because we don’t want to see what Obama has done go down the drain.”