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Did Hillary Clinton Really Win Nevada?

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Clinton signs outside her Nevada headquarters=nv1962= via Flickr

The results from the Nevada Caucus are in and all the major news organizations have crowned Hillary Clinton the winner, with 51 percent of the vote. This marks the second win in a row for Clinton, who teared herself to a New Hampshire primary victory last week and hopes to ride this wave of momentum to next Saturday's South Carolina primary.

On the face of it, things are looking pretty good for Clinton, who still maintains strong, if dwindling, national and California poll numbers. Her supporters have to be looking forward to OMG Tuesday! when California's 441 Democratic delegates will be divided amongst the candidates.

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But the true story behind caucus and primary wins is a tale told not by who placed first, but who got more delegates, the ones who will actually decide on the eventual nominee.

Clinton got more votes in Nevada, but did she really win?

While Clinton received 582 more votes state delegates than Barack Obama, the Illinois Senator received one more national party delegate vote. Clinton got 12, while Obama pulled in 13. How is that possible, given she won the popular vote?

Nevada has 25 delegates and 8 super delegates (a collection of 842 Governors, Senators, state and national party chairs and others who can pledge allegiance to a candidate at any time).

Though the nature of super delegates (who make up 40 percent of the 4,049 Democratic delegates; a simple majority, or 2,025 are needed to win) may be wholly democratic, there is still a modicum of legitimacy to the pledged delegate system. They choose who to support by voting in primaries (like us, Feb. 5!) or by voicing their support in caucuses (like they just did in Nevada). After the votes are counted, delegates are then allocated to candidates based on how well they do in certain districts.

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In Nevada, Obama won the popular vote in ten of Nevada's 17 counties.

  • In Elko County, located in the northeast edge of the state, Obama won 63 votes to Clinton's 31.
  • In Esmeralda County, a sparsely populated pocket of southwestern territory in Nevada, Obama received 22 votes to Clinton's 9;
  • In Nevada's oldest county, Humboldt, Obama got 15 more votes than Clinton, 46-31;
  • And in Washoe County, home of The Biggest Little City in the World, Obama received an overwhelming bid of support. He got 163 more votes than Clinton, who lost the county by nine percentage points.

So, why is all this important? The Democratic party uses proportional representation to allocate its delegates. Candidates receive a percentage of the delegates from the percentage of support they receive. While Clinton got 51 percent of the popular vote, Obama received support in some of Nevada's most concentrated areas, like Washoe County (Though Clinton did take Nevada's largest county, Clark), allowing him to pick up one more delegate.
Winning a primary and caucus look good. You get to have your mug splashed across newspapers and websites. But delegates are the words to the election novel and right now, Obama has 38 pledged delegates to Clinton's 36.

But delegates don't tell the whole story of Nevada. While Team Clinton will go into South Carolina pleased with the Nevada win, they have to be worried that Obama convincingly carried the black vote.

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By a 5-1 margin, black people in Nevada stood behind Obama, supporting him by an 83 percent to 14 percent margin. That could be a harbinger of things to come, as the largest minority in South Carolina, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the overall population, is the black population.

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Right now, Obama is enjoying a healthy lead in many South Carolina polls. While his camp must take some pleasure in that, Obama also had a pollster lead hours before New Hampshire voters said otherwise.

With six days until South Carolina and two and a half weeks until OMG Tuesday!, the election is still as wide open as it was before Iowa. Two wins in a row for Clinton make for glitzy campaign responses, but her victory in Nevada may have been hollow with the upcoming primaries aiming to clear the picture.