Former Vice President Joe Biden racked up his first delegates in the Democratic presidential primaries with a second-place finish in the Nevada caucuses.
With 96 percent of Nevada’s vote counted Monday morning, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont was the clear winner with 46.8 percent of the vote, according to The New York Times. Biden finished second with 20.9 percent, while former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg was third with 13.6 percent.
NBC News projected the victory will add 14 delegates to Sanders’ total, with Biden picking up seven delegates and Buttigieg earned two.
Before the voting, a strong second-place showing had been considered essential for Biden going into Saturday’s South Carolina primary.
In addition to his Nevada performance, Biden is set to snare the endorsement of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn on Wednesday, NBC News reported. The South Carolina Democrat has said he would withhold a formal announcement of his support until after Tuesday’s debate in Charleston.
During an appearance Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” Clyburn had said Democrats would face problems with Sanders at the top of the ticket.
“This is South Carolina, and South Carolinians are pretty leery about that title ‘socialist,'” he said. “And so I think that that would be a real burden for us in these states or congressional districts that we have to do well in.”
Biden on Sunday was upbeat about his chances in South Carolina.
“I said I’m going to do well there and I’ll do well there, and I’ll do well beyond there as well,” he said in an interview on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”
However, the polls predict a close race. Although Biden had a large lead prior to his lackluster finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, since then he has seen much of that lead evaporate.
The current Real Clear Politics polling average for South Carolina shows Biden with 24.5 percent support, compared with 21.5 percent for Sanders and 16.5 percent for billionaire Tom Steyer. Buttigieg is third at 10.8 percent, with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 9.5 percent and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar at 6.5 percent.
Some pundits said Sanders has momentum on his side.
“I just think there’s one big, huge, screaming story here tonight, and that is that there is a front-runner in the 2020 Democratic presidential race,” Democratic strategist James Carville said on MSNBC after the Nevada results were in.
“We’re in a whole new ballgame here, and … some of these candidates are going to have to make really hard decisions about who stays in and who gets out and where we go from here,” he said.
Some pointed a finger at Steyer, who polls well in South Carolina but is in single digits elsewhere.
“I can’t see how Steyer justifies staying in after getting zero delegates in the first three states,” Brady Quirk-Garvan, past chairman of the Charleston Democrats, said. “At this point, moderate candidates who don’t see a path to win but are staying in are just helping to create a Sanders nominee, and that scares a lot of South Carolinian Democrats.”
The Charleston debate, hosted by CBS News, the Congressional Black Caucus Institute and Twitter, starts at 8 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday. In addition to Biden, the lineup includes Buttigieg, Sanders, Steyer, Klobuchar, Warren and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
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