LAS VEGAS – Celebrating what appeared to be a convincing Nevada caucuses victory, an exuberant Bernie Sanders crowed to a large crowd Saturday night after moving on to the Super Tuesday state of Texas.
“Don’t tell anybody, I don't want to get them nervous," Sanders said. "We're going to win the Democratic primary in Texas.”
Sanders' win in Nevada was called quickly by the major TV networks and the Associated Press – and as the results continued trickling in from caucus precincts across the state Saturday, it became clear the populist U.S. senator from Vermont was racking up a sizable win.
Sanders explained how he pulled off the Silver State victory.
“In Nevada we have just put together a multigenerational, multiracial coalition which is going to not only win in Nevada, it's going to sweep this country,” he said.
“In Nevada we have just put together a multigenerational, multiracial coalition which is going to not only win in Nevada, it's going to sweep this country.”
His victory – following a win in last week’s New Hampshire primary and a draw with former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg in the Iowa caucuses -- instantly drew incoming fire from his top rivals for the Democratic nomination. And it made already nervous moderate and establishment Democrats even more jittery over the prospect of Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, becoming their party’s standard-bearer in November against President Trump.
Biden sharpens his knives
In a speech celebrating what appeared to be a much-needed second place finish, Joe Biden made an apppeal to party loyalists.
"I’m a Democrat … and I’m proud of it,” Biden said.
"I’m a Democrat … and I’m proud of it.”
Then – sharpening his knives – the man who served as former President Barack Obama’s vice president for eight years highlighted that history.
“I was proud to run with Barack Obama," Biden said. "I’m proud to still be his friend and, I tell you what, I promise you I wasn’t talking about running a Democratic primary against him in 2012.”
The shot by Biden referred to recent reports that former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had to convince Sanders to stop mulling a primary challenge against Obama as he ran for re-election in 2012.
'Leaves out most Democrats'
Minutes after Biden spoke, Buttigieg complimented Sanders before launching an attack on his rival.
“Sen. Sanders believes in an inflexible, ideological revolution that leaves out most Democrats, not to mention most Americans,” he argued.
Pointing to Sanders’ long time push for a government run Medicare-for-all plan that would replace current private health care coverage, Buttigieg emphasized that “Senator Sanders believes in taking away that choice -- kicking people off their private plans and replacing it with a public plan, whether they want it or not.”
“Senator Sanders believes in ... kicking people off their private [health] plans and replacing it with a public plan, whether they want it or not.”
Buttigieg also claimed Sanders and his supporters are taking aim at moderate Democrats running in congressional races, saying the senator, “is ignoring, dismissing, or even attacking the very Democrats we absolutely must send to Capitol Hill in order to keep Nancy Pelosi as speaker, in order to support judges who respect privacy and democracy, and in order to send [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell into retirement.”
Although their candidate didn't run in Nevada, Mike Bloomberg’s campaign also took aim at Sanders – and used the senator’s apparent big win Saturday to once again make the much-derided pitch for the other moderate Democratic presidential candidates to drop out of the race to allow Bloomberg to consolidate the anti-Sanders vote.
"The Nevada results reinforce the reality that this fragmented field is putting Bernie Sanders on pace to amass an insurmountable delegate lead. This is a candidate who just declared war on the so-called 'Democratic Establishment.' We are going to need Independents AND Republicans to defeat Trump – attacking your own party is no way to get started. As Mike says, if we choose a candidate who appeals to a small base – like Senator Sanders – it will be a fatal error,” Bloomberg campaign manager Kevin Sheekey argued.
One of those candidates Bloomberg would like to see drop out is Biden. But the former vice president seemed energized after he was on course for a second-place finish.
After Biden suffered disappointing fourth- and fifth-place finishes in the overwhelmingly white Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, a stronger performance in Nevada's much more diverse electorate was a necessity for the former vice president.
"No final results yet but I feel pretty good," Biden told the crowd. "The press is ready to declare people dead quickly but we’re coming back and we’re going to win."
A pumped-up Biden then looked ahead to primary elections on Feb. 29 and March 3.
"We’re ready in a position now than we haven’t been until this moment," he said. "We’re going to win in South Carolina and then Super Tuesday."
After narrowly winning the delegate count in Iowa and finishing a strong second to Sanders in New Hampshire, Buttigieg acknowledged after the Nevada results started coming in that “we are moving on from the battle-born state with a battle on our hand.”
Disappointment for Warren
For Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts – what appeared to be a disappointing finish in Nevada followed a lackluster fourth-place finish a week and a half ago in New Hampshire.
Warren won rave reviews for her knockout performance at Wednesday night’s debate. But that prime-time punch-fest came after some 75,000 Nevadans had already cast ballots in early caucus voting.
Campaign manager Roger Lau spotlighted the early voting results versus the Saturday caucus results, tweeting the “Vegas debate shook this election up. The @ewarren vote share appears to have gone up more than 50% between early vote & those who caucused today. We’ve raised $9m in 3 days & more than $21m this month.”
And he optimistically predicted that “the Nevada debate will have more impact on the structure of the race than the Nevada result. Since a huge percentage of the votes were cast before the debate -- likely well more than half -- tonight’s results are a lagging indicator of the current state of the race.”
Warren – speaking in Seattle on Saturday night – wasn't discouraged by the Nevada results.
“We have a lot of states to go and right now I can feel the momentum,” she said.
“We have a lot of states to go and right now I can feel the momentum.”
Klobuchar's positive spin
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, in a speech Saturday night to supporters in her home state of Minnesota, tried to put a spin on what looked like a very disappointing finish in Nevada.
"They’re counting the votes but as usual I think we have exceeded expectations,” Klobuchar said.
"As usual I think we have exceeded expectations."
And she repeated a well-used line that “a lot of people didn’t think I’d be standing at this point.”
A top Tom Steyer campaign adviser told Fox News nothing has changed following the candidate’s poor showing in Nevada.
The billionaire environmental and progressive advocate poured plenty of resources and time into campaigning in Nevada – and didn’t appear to get much bang for his buck.
The race now moves to South Carolina - which the Biden campaign sees as his firewall - thanks to the majority African-American Democratic primary electorate.
But just three days later on March 3, no fewer than 14 states from coast-to-coast will hold contests on Super Tuesday. Among them are the delegate-rich behemouths of California and Texas -- with their large Spanish-speaking populations.
Entrance polls in Nevada indicated Sanders scored big among Hispanic voters, which will only feed the frenzy that the senator is moving closer to locking up the nomination.
Fox News’ Tara Prindiville, Madeleine Rivera, Andrew Craft and Andres del Aguila contributed to this report.