Moderates hustle to blunt Sanders’ momentum after Nevada win

WASHINGTON, February 24 ------ Bernie Sanders’ commanding Nevada caucus victory made him a top target for his Democratic rivals and a growing source of anxiety for establishment Democrats worried that the nomination of an avowed democratic socialist could cost the party in November. Sanders’ win solidified his front-runner status in the crowded field as the race turned to Saturday’s presidential primary in South Carolina, where his moderate opponents scrambled to try to blunt the Vermont senator’s momentum. But with so-called Super Tuesday just three days later, when 14 states vote and one-third of the delegates are awarded, time was running short for Sanders’ opponents to consolidate support.

That prospect on Sunday amplified concerns among Democrats who believe Sanders’ call for a political “revolution” would drive moderate and independent voters away from the party, both in the matchup against President Donald Trump and in House and Senate races. “I think it would be a real burden for us in these states or congressional districts that we have to do well in,” South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the House minority whip and the top-ranking black Democrat in Congress, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

Clyburn, who said he’ll endorse a candidate on Wednesday, specifically pointed to the districts Democrats flipped to take control of the House in 2018. “In those districts, it’s going to be tough to hold on to these jobs if you have to make the case for accepting a self-proclaimed democratic socialist,” he said. Sanders’ campaign argued he will bring in new and infrequent voters — largely progressives, young people and voters of color — who have been alienated from the process and seek a drastic overhaul of Washington, not merely trying to oust Trump. He successfully relied on that coalition Saturday to dominate his Democratic rivals in Nevada, pulling far ahead of the second-place finisher, former Vice President Joe Biden, and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who came in third.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren landed in fourth, while Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer were in a close race for fifth as the Nevada Democratic Party continued to tabulate results. Sanders celebrated the win in Texas, a top Super Tuesday prize and a state that Democrats see trending their way thanks to a growing Hispanic population and opposition to Trump in the suburbs. Sounding like a candidate who had already secured the nomination, Sanders told thousands of cheering supporters who filled a basketball arena on the campus of the University of Houston that he would win in the state both next month and next fall. “If working people and young people of this city, black and white and Latino, gay or straight, if our people stand together, come out to vote, we’re going to win here in Texas,” he said.

Sanders’ new status was clear as most of his rivals sharpened their focus on him.