US Election 2016: Bernie Sanders' Nevada defeat gives Hillary Clinton hope tide has turned

Nevada has a diverse population that more closely resembles the broader US than the largely rural, predominantly white Iowa and New Hampshire

After holding back the surge of Bernie Sanders at the Nevada caucuses, Hillary Clinton’s campaign will head to South Carolina this week, hopeful that the tide of the Democratic presidential race has turned decisively in her favour.

The former Secretary of State ground out a five-point victory over the Vermont Senator in Nevada, a far slimmer margin than was predicted several weeks ago, but sufficient to give her the momentum as the race turns towards the southern states. 

An electoral bellwether for the West, Nevada has a diverse population that more closely resembles the broader US than the largely rural, predominantly white Iowa and New Hampshire, which precede it in the presidential primary season. Ms Clinton can now be hopeful of a convincing win in the South Carolina primary on Saturday.

After a paper-thin win in Iowa and a crushing defeat to Mr Sanders in New Hampshire, the Clinton campaign had believed minority voters would provide a bulwark of support in the Silver State, where they had laboured to portray Ms Clinton as the candidate more committed to Latino voters’ issues. That strategy was partially successful at best, with an entrance poll suggesting Mr Sanders had in fact won 53 per cent of the Latino vote – a figure quickly disputed by Ms Clinton’s team.

The same poll, however, suggested Ms Clinton’s support among African-Americans remains staunch, accounting for three-quarters of Nevada’s black voters. That is seen as promising news ahead of Saturday’s primary in South Carolina, where she has a 20-point poll lead, and where the large black population has long been considered Clinton-friendly. The same is true of several southern states due to vote on Super Tuesday, 1 March, among them Texas, Georgia and Alabama.

In her victory speech in Las Vegas on Saturday, Ms Clinton reiterated her recent critique of Mr Sanders  as a single-issue candidate, focused only on new financial regulations for Wall Street. “The truth is, we aren’t a single-issue country,” she said. “We need more than a plan for the big banks.”

Yet the speech also demonstrated just how much Mr Sanders’ rhetoric has influenced his rival, drawing her further left on economic issues. “We all want to get secret unaccountable money out of politics,” Ms Clinton said. “That starts with appointing a new Justice to the Supreme Court who will protect the right of every citizen to vote, not every corporation to buy elections.”

In his concession statement, Mr Sanders pointed out how close he had come to overwhelming Ms Clinton in Nevada. “Five weeks ago we were 25 points behind and we ended up in a very close election,” he said. The impressive result was surely helped by his campaign spending: almost $35m (£24m) in January, $15m more than his opponent.

Leaving Nevada, Mr Sanders reassured his supporters that “the wind is at our backs”, but there was at least one troubling sign for his campaign’s longevity: his call for a “political revolution” relies on a record turnout, boosted by the young voters he has attracted to his cause. But a low 80,000 Nevadans participated in Saturday’s caucuses, more than 60 per cent of them aged 45 and over.