Bernie Sanders appeared headed to a decisive victory in the Democratic presidential caucuses in Nevada on Saturday, and early returns showed Joe Biden possibly landing a second-place finish that would give his struggling campaign new hope.
Fox News and MSNBC projected Sanders as the winner in Nevada, where he was leading with more than 40 percent of the final round of popular votes with about 10 percent of precincts reported, four hours after the caucuses began.
But there were long delays in the reporting of fresh results.
The win in Nevada will further boost the front-running candidacy of Sanders, a US senator from Vermont, after his strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire earlier this month.
He was buoyed by what entrance polls showed was strong support for a government-run Medicare for All healthcare plan like the one he has proposed.
Biden, the former vice president, had been in desperate need of a strong showing after poor finishes in the first two contests. He was a distant second to Sanders with 19 percent of the vote with 10 percent of the precincts reported but ahead of former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, in third with 17 percent.
“The press is ready to declare people dead quickly, but we’re alive and we’re coming back and we’re gonna win,” Biden told supporters in Las Vegas.
Senator Elizabeth Warren was fourth with 11 percent in Nevada, where voters poured into more than 250 sites around the state to make their pick for a Democratic challenger to President Donald Trump in the November 3 election.
After a technical meltdown delayed results during the Iowa caucuses, Nevada Democratic Party officials promised that a revised reporting system using a telephone hotline and photos of caucus reporting sheets would ensure a smoother process.
But precinct chairs at some caucuses reported long waits on the phone lines. Larry Van, a retired pharmacist who was the volunteer secretary at a precinct that went to Biden, said he called the phone number to report results eight times before he eventually got through.
Bernie Sanders walks through a crowd of supporters onstage in front of a large Texas state flag at his first campaign rally after the Nevada Caucus in the Abraham Chavez Theatre in El Paso, Texas [Jose Luis Gonzalez/ Reuters]
In the final result of a caucus at the famed Bellagio hotel on the Las Vegas strip, Sanders finished with 76 votes, Biden had 45 and no other candidate ended with a vote.
Workers at the hotel, who are members of the Culinary Workers Union, streamed out of the caucus after backing Sanders despite their leadership expressing reservations about his healthcare plan.
“I went for Bernie. I’m not big into politics, but I like the things he’s going for: student loan debt, schools, free healthcare,” said Aleiza Smith, 22, a housekeeper at the Bellagio.
Four days of early voting in Nevada this week drew more than 75,000 Democrats, more than half first-time voters, putting the party in position to surpass the turnout record of 118,000 in 2008, when Barack Obama’s candidacy electrified the party.
But those early votes had to be counted along with those cast on Saturday, complicating the process.
An entrance poll by the Edison Research agency showed six in 10 Nevada voters at the caucuses backed the Medicare for All proposal, a version of which is also supported by Warren.
Six out of 10 caucus-goers wanted someone who can beat Trump more than someone who agrees with them on major issues, according to the poll.