Democratic presidential candidates wasted no time taking shots at Sen. Bernie Sanders on Saturday, after Sanders cemented his lead in the 2020 primary with a projected win in the Nevada caucus.
Two candidates, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden, slammed Sanders well before the final results had been announced, as their campaigns bickered about who came in second place.
Buttigieg, who edged out Sanders in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus and came in a close second in New Hampshire’s primary, attacked the 78-year-old democrat socialist at length in a speech to his supporters in Las Vegas.
“Senator Sanders believes in an inflexible, ideological revolution that leaves out most Democrats, not to mention most Americans,” Buttigieg said.
“Ours is the only campaign who has beaten Senator Sanders anywhere in the country this campaign cycle,” Buttigieg added.
Buttigieg also stressed the importance of nominating a candidate who can help elect Democrats down the ballot in 2020.
Democrats, he said, need to nominate a candidate who “gives a damn about the effect you’re having from the top of the ticket.”
Sanders has shown “willingness to ignore or dismiss, or even attack the very Democrats that we absolutely must send to Capitol Hill,” Buttigieg said.
Biden, meanwhile, took a swipe at Sanders less directly, by referencing The Washington Post’s recent report that Russia is attempting to boost Sanders’ campaign as part of its efforts to meddle in the 2020 election.
“We’re going to have more help from Vladimir Putin, who wants somebody he doesn’t think can beat Trump,” Biden said at his own campaign event in Vegas on Saturday.
Sanders has denounced the Kremlin’s reported attempts to meddle, once again, in a U.S. presidential contest.
Biden took another veiled jab at Sanders, as well as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has dumped hundreds of millions of dollars into his campaign.
“You know, I’m a Democrat for a simple reason. I ain’t a socialist, I ain’t a plutocrat, I’m a Democrat. I’m a Democrat, okay. And I’m proud of it,” Biden said. He explained that he is a Democrat because he believes that “everybody just deserves a shot.”
Bloomberg’s campaign was not competing in the Nevada contest — but it nevertheless issued a statement warning that selecting Sanders as the Democratic nominee would be a “fatal error,” arguing that his appeal does not extend beyond his narrow base.
“We are going to need Independents AND Republicans to defeat Trump – attacking your own party is no way to get started,” the Bloomberg campaign said in a statement.
“As Mike says, if we choose a candidate who appeals to a small base – like Senator Sanders – it will be a fatal error.”
For most of the Democratic field, the Nevada caucus became a fight for second place long before the first projections showed Sanders clinching the top spot by a wide margin.
By about 9 p.m. ET, early results appeared to show Biden and Buttigieg vying for the no. 2 spot, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., looked to be in fourth place.
Biden’s campaign manager Greg Schultz tweeted Saturday evening that, “based on our internal data, Biden will come in a strong second tonight in Nevada.”
“Make no mistake: The Biden comeback starts tonight in Nevada,” Schultz tweeted.
Biden, once seen as the top Democrat in the race to defeat Trump in 2020, underwhelmed in the first two primary contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. Biden’s campaign is banking that the stronger showing in Nevada will help propel him to a win in South Carolina’s primary next week.
“The press is ready to declare people dead quickly, but we’re alive and we’re coming back and we’re going to win,” Biden said.
But Michael Halle, a Buttigieg campaign strategist, pushed back on Schultz’s claim that Biden clinched second place in Nevada.
“Not from what we’re seeing,” Halle tweeted in reply to Schultz, adding a link to the Buttigieg campaign’s internal caucus data.
Sanders, who for weeks has led the field in national polls, was widely expected to win in Nevada. He won the majority of support from Latino voters and voters under 45 in Nevada, according to entrance polls of the caucus.
He is on track to win more of Nevada’s 36 electoral delegates than any of the six other Democrats competing in the caucus.