Hillary Clinton held off a powerful late challenge from rival Sen. Bernie Sanders in Nevada's Democratic caucus vote Saturday, securing what is projected to be a narrow victory that could help her renew a claim to the mantle of presumptive Democratic nominee.
With 71.7 per cent of precincts reporting, Clinton held a 52.3 per cent to 47.6 per cent lead over Sanders - a margin more decisive than her razor-thin Iowa win but much closer than the Clinton campaign had anticipated as recently as a month ago, when it touted polls showing the former Secretary of State with a 25-point lead. The Associated Press projected that she would win.
Nevada is the first state to gauge Clinton's support among Hispanics, a growing demographic Democrats will need to win in November. The state, which is home to a well-organised workforce of hotel and culinary workers, is also a key test of labour power.
While entrance polling showed Sanders gaining stronger-than-expected support among Latino caucusgoers, Clinton maintained an overwhelming advantage among African American voters. She will seek to expand on that minority support in Southern and Midwestern states that vote in March.
The Democratic caucus is one of two races today that will measure the strength of anti-establishment fervor in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Voting continued in South Carolina's Republican primary, where Donald Trump is favoured to win but Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida have showed signs of closing.
Entrance polls reported by CNN found that Nevada's Democratic caucusgoers were far more liberal than eight years ago, boding well for Sanders. They also reinforced the view that Clinton does better among nonwhite voters than among whites. However, the makeup of the electorate was no more diverse than in 2008, when 65 per cent of caucusgoers were white and 15 per cent apiece were African American and Hispanic.
Clinton still enjoys strong support from the Democratic establishment, and her goal in Nevada was to blunt the momentum Sanders acquired from a victory in New Hampshire and then move on next week to South Carolina, where she enjoys broad support from African Americans.
The senator from Vermont has appealed to younger Hispanics to support his candidacy in an effort to counter claims that he cannot attract minority votes.
Sanders made a morning visit to the MGM Grand Casino, seeking to make sure the unionised workers there planned to participate in the caucuses.
Scores of workers were waiting to greet Sanders and take selfies in advance of the Nevada caucuses. Among those already sold on Sanders was Laura Barrera-Perez, who said her job was cleaning the casino.
"He proposes good stuff," she said of Sanders. "I saw his face, and he's very honest." Ambrocio Leyva, a buffet-line server, said he was still struggling with choice but was inclined to go with Sanders over Clinton. Leyva, 46, who came to the United States from Mexico 25 years ago, said many of his co-workers had initially been for Clinton but some were rethinking their choice.
Leyva said he had waited to make a final choice until the end because "you can always hear something new" from the candidates. "I'm making that decision now," he said.
This weekend marks one of the few times when the Democratic and Republican calendars diverge. Republicans will hold caucuses in Nevada on Wednesday, and Democrats will have their primary in South Carolina next Sunday.
Nevada's caucuses mark the first real chance for non-white voters to weigh in on the Democratic race. The next will come in South Carolina, and in the Southern-heavy line-up of states that vote on March 2. Sanders's campaign has already targeted Colorado, a caucus state with a large Latino population, as one of its best Super Tuesday hopes.
Clinton stopped by the cafeteria at the Harrah's casino on the Las Vegas Strip to greet caucusgoers, minutes after Sanders had worked the same room.
The heavily Latino crowd cheered "Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!" when Clinton entered. "First Lady in the house!" a man yelled.