Democratic rivals try to slow Sanders after big Nevada win

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – Democratic presidential hopefuls fanned out across the United States on Sunday to try blunt Bernie Sanders’ momentum after a dominant victory in Nevada solidified his front-runner status ahead of 15 key nominating contests in the next 10 days.

Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont and self-avowed democratic socialist, rode a broad-based wave of support across age, race and ideology to capture 47% of the county convention delegates in Nevada, with 50% of precincts reporting as of Sunday morning.

Former Vice President Joe Biden appeared headed to a badly needed second-place finish, but trailed by a wide margin, with 19%. Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was in third place with 15%.

Sanders’ triumph on Saturday in the first racially diverse state in the campaign suggested he was reaching a broader coalition of Democratic voters with his unapologetic message of social and economic justice, including his signature pledge to provide universal healthcare for all Americans.

“Together we will defeat the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country,” Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, told a cheering throng of supporters in Houston.

“We have won the popular vote in Iowa. We won the New Hampshire primary. We won the Nevada caucus,” he said. “And don’t tell anybody … we’re going to win here in Texas.”

Biden was in South Carolina on Sunday, where he hopes his record on civil rights and as Barack Obama’s vice president will appeal to the state’s many black voters ahead of a primary contest on Saturday.

“I don’t expect anything. I am here to earn your vote,” Biden said at Royal Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston. “You can own this election. It’s yours to determine.”

For Biden and other moderates who argue Sanders is too liberal to beat President Donald Trump when voters go to the polls in November, the Nevada results made it harder for them to close the gap.

In an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Biden said he was confident he could win in South Carolina with support from African-Americans.

U.S. Representative James Clyburn, a top-ranking House Democrat and an influential voice in South Carolina’s African-American community, said he would not endorse a candidate until after a Democratic debate on Tuesday night.

Speaking to reporters outside the church, Biden said he had spoken with Clyburn recently about a potential endorsement. “I’m not counting on anything but I’m hopeful. Endorsement would be a big deal,” he said.

That debate will include activist billionaire Tom Steyer, who earned just 4% of the Nevada delegates. Steyer, who has advocated reparations to African-Americans over slavery, qualified with a new CBS/YouGov poll showing that 18% of South Carolina voters favored him, placing him third.

Biden led the poll, with 28%, but Sanders was close behind with 23%.

In Nevada, Senator Elizabeth Warren, who had been looking to jump-start her campaign after poor finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, trailed in a disappointing fourth place with 10% in Nevada. Senator Amy Klobuchar was fifth with 5%.

Warren on Sunday was scheduled to campaign in Colorado, one of the 14 Super Tuesday states where Democratic voters will cast primary ballots on March 3 to pick more than one-third of the pledged delegates who will help select a Democratic nominee.

Klobuchar was scheduled to be in Super Tuesday states Arkansas and Oklahoma, after visiting North Dakota, which holds a Democratic caucus on March 10. Buttigieg was set to speak in Virginia, yet another state where Democrats vote on March 3.

Warren shrugged off her poor finish in Nevada, saying she got a boost in fundraising and support from an aggressive debate performance on Wednesday, which came too late to affect early voting in the first part of the week.

“We have a lot of states to go, and right now I can feel the momentum,” Warren said at a rally in Seattle on Saturday.

The Super Tuesday states will be the first nominating contests for former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has not been competing in the four early voting states but had been rising in opinion polls.

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