Bernie Sanders has taken a big lead as vote counting begins in the Nevada caucuses on Saturday, and seems on course for a convincing victory in the third Democratic presidential contest.

With just under 4 per cent of precincts reporting, Mr Sanders had captured over half the popular vote, once the second choices of voters were factored in. Earlier an entrance poll suggested he was on course for a big victory, buoyed by a strong lead among Hispanic voters and first-time caucus-goers. Three US television networks and The Associated Press declared victory for Mr Sanders based on the early vote count.

A victory in Nevada would add significant momentum to the self-declared democratic socialist’s campaign, who is leading in national opinion polls following his victory in the New Hampshire primary. That win came just after a razor-thin loss to Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, in the Iowa caucuses.

Former vice-president Joe Biden, who was expected to be popular among older voters in Nevada, and who faltered in the first two Democratic contests, was second with around 16 per cent of the vote in Nevada.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, who had stepped up campaigning in the state after a strong debate performance on Wednesday, was jostling with Mr Buttegieg for third place.

Pollsters have predicted a Sanders win in Nevada, the first vote in the 2020 election cycle to take place in the western US. From here, the candidates compete in more diverse US states.

An entrance poll conducted by NBC News, suggested Mr Sanders was the candidate of choice for two-thirds of those aged 17 to 29. About half of Latino Democrats intended to vote for the Vermont senator, the poll suggested.

Mike Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York mayor, did not compete in the contest, and will only be on the ballot for the first time on Super Tuesday, March 3.

“Looks like Crazy Bernie is doing well in the Great State of Nevada,” tweeted President Donald Trump.

“Biden & the rest look weak, & no way Mini Mike [Bloomberg] can restart his campaign after the worst debate performance in the history of Presidential Debates. Congratulations Bernie, & don’t let them take it away from you!”

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