Blacks support Clinton, Latinos back Sanders

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Photo / AP
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Photo / AP

For a few moments, in a conference room deep inside the Wynn casino, the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination came down to a debate between three women of colour.

Felicia Fletcher, a 44-year-old cashier at the nearby Circus Circus, was one of two undecided voters. Precinct captains for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders descended on her, reducing lifetimes of politics to a few sentences.

"Hillary's been there for the working people," said Autumn Johnson, 38, a black woman with a blue Clinton T-shirt. "I know that personally."

Melanie Malfabon, 26, leaned in closer to argue for Sanders. "The banks have lobbyists, and that's why so many people can't get ahead. His average donation is US$37 [$55.50]. He's not owned by big money."

Finally, Fletcher dropped the poker face. "I trust Bernie more," she admitted. "But I like Hillary's views more."

It was a scene replayed in hundreds of precincts yesterday, as Clinton's loss of altitude in Nevada was halted by a rugged ground game and the resilient affection of black voters.

In the same location, hours before the fight for Felicia Fletcher's vote, it wasn't always easy to see that.

Sanders volunteers passed out laminated testimonials from casino workers who had come on board - porters, servers, cooks, stage techs. It was a hard sell but a cheerful one.

"He's an old man with a young spirit, young ideas," explained Elza Dubrin, 62, a Brazilian immigrant and server at the Wynn who caucused for Sanders. "My son-in-law, he's a doctor. My daughter, she's a registered nurse. They both support him 100 per cent. So I've got to trust them."

Not far from Dubrin sat Cedric Wester, 58, a black porter who had caucused for Barack Obama in 2008 but could not be convinced that Sanders was presidential timber. "I love Hillary's experience. She's more suited for the job than Bernie."

Thirty-four chose Clinton. Twenty-four chose Sanders. Two were undecided. Each campaign put its most passionate advocate at a microphone. The Sanders team chose Harold Tavares, a 62-year-old veteran who had come from California to canvass for Bernie. "We need comprehensive immigration reform that puts families first, and brings people out of the shadows!" Tavares said. "Come with Bernie!"

The lobbying began, and the Sanders team made no converts. "We all agree on all of these issues," Malfabon said. "But Bernie Sanders has the power to do it because he's not owned by big donors."

The room was counted up again. Clinton now had 36 supporters. Sanders had 23. Fletcher remained undecided, until the last second, when she declared for Clinton.

Nevada was the first state to test support among minority voters, who have long been expected to be in Clinton's camp. As it turned out, preliminary entrance polls showed Latinos favouring Sanders, despite having voted for Clinton 2-to-1 in 2008. Clinton's campaign cast some doubt on the strength of Sanders' support among Hispanics, pointing to majority-Latino precincts that she won.

African American voters appear to have overwhelmingly supported Clinton - a development that could bode extremely well for her given the run of Southern states with large black electorates voting in the coming weeks.

"Some may have doubted us, but we never doubted each other," Clinton told supporters. She congratulated Sanders on a close election, but got in a few digs too. "It can't just be about what we're going to give to you; it has to be about what we are going to build together."

"The wind is at our backs," Sanders said. He predicted several victories in forthcoming state primary contests and, ultimately, "one of the great political upsets in the history of the United States". Yesterday's results seemed to render that promise harder to achieve.

Former President Bill Clinton and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wave after Hillary Clinton's victory speech for the Nevada caucuses. Photo / AP
Former President Bill Clinton and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wave after Hillary Clinton's victory speech for the Nevada caucuses. Photo / AP

Determined Clinton deserves credit

Yes, Hillary Clinton was way ahead in the Nevada caucuses for much of the past year. And, yes, her numbers among Latino voters in the state will furrow some brows at the Clinton headquarters in the next few days. And, yes, the broader race against Bernie Sanders is far from over.

But Hillary Clinton badly needed to win the Nevada caucuses. And she won them. Period.

Clinton has now won two of the first three 2016 votes. Both of those wins came in caucuses, a format that should have played into the passion gap between Sanders supporters and Clinton backers.

She is now an almost-certain winner in South Carolina's primary in a week's time and will enter the big votes on March 2 and March 16 with the upper hand on Sanders. Sweep - or come close to sweeping - the states that vote in March and Clinton will have a close-to-insurmountable delegate edge.

It's easy to nit-pick Clinton's campaign. But it's important to remember that, at the end of the day, there is only winning and losing in these presidential races. If you think back to any presidential primary election, there's (almost) always a moment - or moments - in which the outcome looks in doubt, in which the frontrunner falters.

We tend to forget those moments - George W. Bush losing New Hampshire by 19 points to John McCain in 2000, Barack Obama losing to Clinton in New Hampshire - in the broader sweep of history. Winners always looked like winners and we always knew they were going to win, we tell ourselves.

The reality is always a bit less glamorous - and makes us looks a little less smart. Grinding victories out state by state. Organisations that find a way to drive every last supporter to the polls. Candidates who get knocked down and find a way to get back up. Maybe two of three times.

I've come to realise that Clinton's best traits as a candidate are her resilience and her perseverance. She will not give up. She will not stop working because she is tired. She will not back away. Ever.

Those traits were on display in Iowa and Nevada. Sanders was the momentum candidate in each of those races. Clinton had the weight of expectations anchoring her down. And yet, in both instances, she found a way. Not by a lot. And maybe not exactly in the manner and style that some of her allies - or the broader Democratic party - will love.

But she won when she needed to win. It doesn't mean she will be the nominee. It doesn't mean the race is over. What it does mean is that Clinton found a way when she needed to find a way. For that, she and her team deserve a huge amount of credit.

- Washington Post, Bloomberg

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