NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – Democratic presidential contenders fanned out across the United States on Sunday to try to blunt Bernie Sanders’ momentum after his 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 wave of support across age, race and ideology to capture 47% of the county convention delegates in Nevada, with 50% of precincts reporting.
His latest victory is sure to stoke more concern among establishment Democrats who see him as too liberal to defeat Republican President Donald Trump in November. Now they have an additional worry that he may soon be unstoppable in his quest to win the nomination.
But the results in Nevada and the outlook for coming contests are doing little to push the rest of the field to drop out, leaving a cluster of more centrist candidates to divide the anti-Sanders vote and unable to build momentum.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who had lackluster finishes in the first two nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, appeared headed to a second-place finish in Nevada. But at 19%, he trailed Sanders by a wide margin.
Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who won in Iowa and finished second in New Hampshire, was in third place with 15%. If the final results push Buttigieg below 15%, he may fail to win delegates, the key to securing the nomination.
Buttigieg’s campaign sent a letter to the Nevada Democratic Party on Sunday calling for it to release data on early voting results, fix errors that might have arisen when counting absentee ballots and explain discrepancies the campaign found before any final tally is announced.
“Given how close the race is between second and third place, we ask that you take these steps before releasing any final data,” Buttigieg’s senior aide, Michael Gaffney, said in the letter, which was seen by Reuters.
A representative for the state party said the campaigns understood how the reporting process would work before Saturday.
“We are continuing to verify and to report results,” the representative said in a statement. “We never indicated we would release a separate breakdown of early vote and in-person attendees by precinct and will not change our reporting process now.”
‘OWN THIS ELECTION’
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 told a cheering throng of supporters in Houston.
Biden was in South Carolina, 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.”
U.S. Representative James Clyburn, a top-ranking House of Representatives 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.”
Tuesday’s 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 at 23%.
CANDIDATES FAN OUT
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, while Senator Amy Klobuchar was fifth.
Warren was scheduled on Sunday to campaign in Colorado, one of the 14 Super Tuesday states where Democratic voters will cast 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.
The Super Tuesday states will be the first nominating contests for former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who did not compete in the four early voting states but who has been rising in opinion polls.
Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw in North Charleston, South Carolina, and Simon Lewis in Las Vegas; Writing by Michael Martina and David Lawder; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Tim Ahmann and Peter Cooney