As the dust settled after the Nevada caucuses, Sen. Bernard Sanders and former first lady Hillary Clinton each tried to claim victory Sunday — and had in a nasty exchange over who, in fact, carried the Hispanic vote in the third contest of the Democratic presidential primary.
Mrs. Clinton walked away from Saturday’s caucuses with a 6-point win, taking 53 percent of the vote to Mr. Sanders’ 47 percent.
The victory gave Mrs. Clinton a shot of a momentum at a time when she desperately needed it. On the heels of the Nevada caucuses, she launched a line of attack branding Mr. Sanders as a “single-issue” candidate who cares only about Wall Street regulation and income inequality.
Mr. Sanders has vehemently denied that characterization. He is also disputing the notion that Nevada represented a significant victory for the Clinton campaign.
On Sunday, he cast his performance as a moral victory, saying his campaign had closed a large gap — more than 20 points — with Mrs. Clinton in the final six weeks.
He also said he took a major step forward by capturing a majority of the Hispanic vote, challenging the notion that Mrs. Clinton would fare better among minority voters throughout the primary process.
“I believe we won the Latino vote, which is a huge, huge way forward for us,” Mr. Sanders said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program before acknowledging that Mrs. Clinton still has overwhelming support from black voters. Mrs. Clinton won about 75 percent of the black vote in Nevada, entrance and exit polls show.
“We did badly with the African-American vote,” he said. “But I think the more the African-American community hears our message on a broken criminal justice system, which has more people in jail today than any other country on earth, largely African-American and Latino I think you’re going to see us making progress there as well.”
Numerous entrance and exit polls showed Mr. Sanders beating Mrs. Clinton among Hispanic voters by about 8 percentage points. But the Clinton campaign dismissed those numbers.
In a tweet late Saturday night, Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill brushed off the supposed Sanders victory among Hispanics as, using somewhat earthier terms, bovine excrement.
“I don’t typically like to swear on Twitter, but by all accounts so far this is complete and utter [expletive],” Mr. Merrill said.
Mrs. Clinton herself also disputed the numbers.
“That’s just not what our analysis shows. No. 1, we don’t believe the so-called entry polls were particularly accurate,” she told CNN. “There’s a lot of evidence we did very well with every group of voter.”
She specifically pointed to the fact that she won Clark County, home to the state’s largest Hispanic population, by about 10 percentage points, though this fact that would not prove she won the Hispanic vote even in that county, much less statewide.
The Democratic race now heads to South Carolina, which holds its primary Saturday. With blacks making up a majority of the Palmetto State’s Democratic voters, Mrs. Clinton is expected to win handily. She leads Mr. Sanders there by 24 points, according to a Real Clear Politics average of all polls.
After a razor-thin win in the Iowa caucuses and a blowout loss in New Hampshire, Mrs. Clinton badly needs a South Carolina win to continue the momentum she gained after her victory in Nevada.
As she moves forward, she seems to understand that some voters harbor doubts about whether she is a self-serving politician motivated by ambition and whether those same voters are drawn to Mr. Sanders because they see him as authentic and genuine.
“I understand voters have questions. I’m going to do my very best to answer those questions. I think there’s an underlying question that maybe is really in the back of people’s minds, and that is, ‘You know, is she in it for us, or is she in it for herself?’” Mrs. Clinton told CNN. “I think that’s a question people are trying to sort through. I’m going to demonstrate that I’ve always been the same person, fighting for the same values long before I was ever in elected office, even before my husband was in the presidency. So, I know I have to make my case.”
Mr. Sanders indicated over the weekend that he is all but giving up on South Carolina. In his concession speech Saturday night, he said it’s “on to Super Tuesday,” referring to the slate of 11 primary contests March 1.
He said Sunday that he believes he can win Colorado, Minnesota, Vermont, Oklahoma and other states that day.
Analysts say that after her Nevada win and the expected victory in South Carolina, Mrs. Clinton is in solid shape to win the nomination, though Mr. Sanders and his highly motivated supporters won’t go away quietly.
“Clinton’s wall held in its first test in Nevada, but her modest margin of victory isn’t going to scare Bernie Sanders into surrendering,” said Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “Clinton remains on track to win the nomination but Sanders is hanging around. And with the money he’s raising and the enthusiasm he’s generating among the young, he likely can continue for quite some time.”
Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton is trying to diminish Mr. Sanders’ candidacy by painting him as a single-issue candidate who is interested only in Wall Street reform.
“We’re not a single-issue country,” she said Sunday.
Mr. Sanders fired back at that accusation.
“I haven’t the vaguest idea what she’s talking about,” Mr. Sanders told CNN. “If she thinks that income and wealth inequality and the fact that the rich get richer while everybody else gets poorer is the only issue, it’s not. We are talking about dozens of issues. I am not quite sure where Secretary Clinton is coming from.”
He also mocked Mrs. Clinton for increasingly speaking out on Wall Street reform and income inequality — themes that largely were missing from the Clinton campaign in its early days but have come to the forefront in recent months.
“We’re looking into copyright issues here. Those are our words,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”