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Hillary Clinton wins Nevada, adds to delegate lead

LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 20: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waves to workers inside the employee dining room at Harrah's Las Vegas on February 20, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Clinton met with casino workers at Harrah's Las Vegas before doors opened for the Nevada Democratic caucus. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***

Hillary Clinton pulled out a crucial victory in Nevada’s Democratic presidential caucuses Saturday, overcoming an unexpectedly strong surge by Bernie Sanders and easing the rising anxiety of her supporters.

Clinton’s win eased the rising anxieties of her backers, who feared a growing challenge from Bernie Sanders, particularly after her blowout loss to Sanders in New Hampshire.

“Some may have doubted us, but we never doubted each other,” Clinton said at a raucous victory rally in Las Vegas where she lavished praise on her supporters and declared, “This one is for you.”

Sanders, backed by a powerful network of small financial donors, has plenty of money to stay in the race for months.

Clinton’s win means she will pick up at least 19 of Nevada’s 35 delegates. She already holds a sizeable lead in the delegate count based largely on her support from superdelegates — the party leaders who can support the candidate of their choice, no matter the outcome of primaries and caucuses.

The former secretary of state captured the backing of voters who said electability and experience were important in their vote. But in a continuing sign of her vulnerability, Sanders did best with voters looking for a candidate who is caring and honest.

Sanders congratulated Clinton on her victory but then declared, “We have the momentum.”

Among Republicans, South Carolina was seen as Trump’s to lose, given that he led preference polls in the state for months. The results also were being watched closely for indications of whom, if any, of the more mainstream candidates might emerge to challenge him.

But the South Carolina electorate had warnings for more traditional Republican politicians. Half of voters said they felt betrayed by politicians in the Republican Party.

Trump spent the week threatening one rival with a lawsuit, accusing former President George W. Bush of lying, and even tangling with Pope Francis on immigration. Yet he still entered the primary contest in a strong position.

The prospect of a Trump win alarmed rival Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor trying to save his campaign with a respectable showing in the first Southern state to vote.

“Trump can’t win, plain and simple,” Bush told reporters outside a polling place in Greenville. “A ton of people would be very uncomfortable with his divisive language and with his inexperience in so many ways.”

A Trump victory could foreshadow a solid performance in the collection of Southern states that vote on March 1. Victories in those Super Tuesday contests could put the billionaire in a commanding position in the delegate count, which determines the nomination.

Texas’ Cruz banked on a well-regarded get-out-the-vote operation and 10,000 volunteers to help overtake Trump on Saturday, as well as in the Southern states that follow.

A failure to top Trump in South Carolina could puncture that strategy, though Cruz, who sidetracked briefly to Washington to attend the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s funeral Mass, will still have more than enough money to run a long campaign.

Florida’s Rubio was also fighting for a top-tier finish in South Carolina that could help establish him as the more mainstream alternative to Trump and Cruz. Many Republican leaders believe neither Trump nor Cruz could win in the general election.

Rubio scored the endorsements of several prominent South Carolina politicians, including Gov. Nikki Haley, and seemed to have rebounded after a dismal debate performance two weeks ago.

Bush hoped his deep family ties to South Carolina — his brother and father each won two primaries here — would be a lifeline for his struggling campaign. But if Bush is unable to stay close to the leaders, he’s sure to face pressure to end his campaign.

Also in the mix was Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who had low expectations in South Carolina. He was looking toward more moderate states that vote later in March. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson had a small but loyal cadre of followers.

The crowded Republican contest was a contrast to the head-to-head face-off among Democrats. Sanders, backed by a powerful network of small financial donors, has plenty of money to stay in the race for months.

But Clinton’s victory in Nevada could be vital if she’s to hold off the challenge from Sanders. Clinton and Sanders split the first two voting contests, revealing the Vermont senator’s appeal with young people drawn to his impassioned calls for breaking up Wall Street banks and providing free tuition at public colleges and universities.

According to the entrance polls of voters, Clinton was backed by a majority of women, college-educated voters, those with annual incomes over $100,000, moderates, voters aged 45 and older and non-white voters. Sanders did best with men, voters under 45 and those less affluent and educated.

Clinton and Sanders split the first two voting contests, revealing the Vermont senator’s appeal with young people drawn to his impassioned calls for breaking up Wall Street banks and providing free tuition at public colleges and universities.

Democrats and Republicans will swap locations in the coming days. The GOP holds its caucus in Nevada on Tuesday, while Democrats face off in South Carolina on Feb. 27.