Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Ten months of campaigning in Nevada paid off for Hillary Clinton, who won a narrow but decisive victory over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the state’s Democratic caucuses Saturday.
Had expectations for Clinton remained high in the state over the past couple of weeks, her victory here might not have seemed like such a resounding triumph. But with a razor-thin victory for Clinton in Iowa and Sanders’ sizable win in New Hampshire, the prospects of Clinton winning Nevada had seemed dicey, with polls placing them neck-and-neck.
So Saturday's solid victory comes as a relief for the Clinton campaign. It propels the campaign forward to South Carolina, then on to Super Tuesday.
"I am so, so thrilled and so grateful to all my supporters out there,” Clinton said at a rally of a couple of hundred supporters Saturday afternoon. “Some may have doubted us, but we never doubted each other. This one’s for you.”
A half-dozen of her supporters said in interviews Saturday afternoon they had expected she would win, but they were nevertheless encouraged.
“Personally, I thought we were going to win just because we worked so hard for this moment,” said Lynnette Hull, 17, a fellow with the campaign and a precinct captain. “When I got to the caucus, it was 'go' time.”
Clinton was in Nevada for the long haul. Her campaign launched here in April and has been diligently putting in hours of phone banking, door knocking and voter registration. State director Emmy Ruiz, who worked on Clinton’s campaign in 2008 when she won the popular vote in the state, said she felt “really proud and grateful that Nevada stayed with Hillary, firmly.”
“I think it was critical to start back in April,” Ruiz said. “We always expected it to be close.”
Over the past week, Clinton and her campaign staff pulled out all the stops. Her schedule was packed with meet-and-greets with members of various communities, and an array of surrogates — congressmen and -women, actresses, activists and a Cabinet member — marched into the state on her behalf hosting numerous more campaign events.
Nevada was, in many ways, a test of how both candidates would perform with a more diverse spectrum of voters. Clinton had long projected to be the favored candidate among black and Hispanic voters.
A CBS entrance poll, however, showed that only 45 percent of Hispanic voters supported Clinton, compared with 53 percent for Sanders. It also found she had 76 percent of the support of black voters. Still, from precinct-level data available Saturday night, it appeared Clinton fared better in most precincts in North Las Vegas and east Las Vegas, areas with higher concentrations of minority voters.
David Damore, a political science professor at UNLV, said he tends to trust the precinct data more than the entrance polls and believes Saturday's results showed Clinton’s support within the Latino and black communities.
“This is a problem for Bernie,” Damore said. “His knowledge of those communities started in the last couple of months, and he represented his state. His state does not have that population.”
Still, the Sanders campaign took a victory lap Saturday, pointing to that exit poll as an example of the significant support he received from Latinos in Nevada.
"What we learned today is Hillary Clinton's firewall with Latino voters is a myth," said Arturo Carmona, one of the campaign’s political directors, in a statement. "The Latino community responded strongly to Bernie Sanders' message of immigration reform and creating an economy that works for all families.”
In the wake of the loss, Sanders emphasized how far his campaign had come since December — when polls showed Clinton 23 points ahead of Sanders — instead of how narrow the race had seemed in recent days.
“What this entire campaign has been about is the issue of momentum, the issue of bringing more and more people into the political process,” Sanders said at a rally of his supporters Saturday afternoon. “When we began in Iowa, we were 50 points behind, when we began in new Hampshire, we were 30 points behind, and we were way behind here in Nevada. “
His supporters followed suit, stressing the close race and how much Sanders had caught up to Clinton in recent months.
“Sen. Sanders racked up a good number of delegates,” said Erin Bilbray, a DNC committeewoman and a superdelegate supporting Sanders. “I think he did very well. It wasn’t that long ago that Hillary Clinton was a 20-point leader in Nevada.”
But for Clinton supporters, Saturday’s caucuses were proof that Nevada is, as Rep. Dina Titus likes to put it, “Clinton country.”
“I felt confident that she would win because the organization she had was outstanding,” Titus said, although she admitted she was a little nervous after her own caucus site at William E. Orr Middle School in Las Vegas had an overwhelming number of Sanders supporters.
Titus said her precinct includes many of the student apartments right around UNLV, and it ended up going 3-1 for Sanders.
Clinton’s week of back-of-house visits to many of the Strip hotels over the past week — as well as the relationships she built with casino workers during her 2008 campaign — appear to have paid off for her. (Sanders also toured back-of-house yesterday, but not to the same extent Clinton did.)
She won all six Strip precincts — at Caesars Palace, Harrah’s, Wynn, Paris, the Rio and New York-New York — by a large margin, securing nearly twice as many delegates as Sanders did at those sites. In 2008, she won seven of the nine at-large caucus sites on the Strip, despite the fact that the Culinary Union, which represents many Strip workers, endorsed then-Sen. Barack Obama.
Support for Clinton at Caesars Palace, the caucus site for Caesars, Bellagio and Cosmopolitan employees, on Saturday was overwhelming.
Almost every Latina hotel worker interviewed by the Sun before the caucus at Caesars said she was supporting Clinton and that she had also caucused for her in 2008. To them, she is, affectionately, “La Hillary.”
Lea Klein, a 51-year-old guest room attendant at Caesars, said she and her co-workers were “so happy” when they started hearing rumors that Clinton would be staying at Caesars on her recent trip to Las Vegas. Klein, who said she raised her three children by herself, added that it was Clinton’s focus on women and children that stuck out to her in 2008.
“There’s a lot of single moms in Las Vegas, and that’s one of her priorities,” Klein said. “We’re going to vote for her.”
She said she wasn’t able to go down to the employee dining room when Clinton visited recently, but all of her friends showed her the pictures they had taken with the candidate. She said they all were “so proud.”
Sanders, too, visited the Caesars dining room Friday night. But these are relationships Clinton has been building for years, her campaign said — with Strip workers but also with Nevadans.
“She went out there, she talked with them, she asked them what issues they were facing, what they cared about and they remember her,” Ruiz said. “She’s been with the communities for many, many years. That can’t be replaced with a campaign in just 30 days.”
Sun staff writer Chris Kudialis contributed to this report.