McCain, Clinton score big wins

She defeats Obama in Nev.

he takes S.C. over Huckabee

Election 2008

Nevada, S. Carolina

January 20, 2008|By Paul West | Paul West,Sun Reporter

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- John McCain and Hillary Clinton secured key victories yesterday as the 2008 presidential campaign headed south and west for the first time.

"Thank you, South Carolina," McCain said to chants of "Mac is Back" from supporters in Charleston. "You know, it took us a while, but what's eight years among friends?"

Joined onstage by his wife, Cindy, and his 95-year-old mother, Roberta, McCain thanked members of the state's Republican establishment, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, who were instrumental in his victory.

"For the last 28 years, the winner of the South Carolina primary has been the nominee of our party," said McCain, 71, who predicted that he would win Florida and be on his way to the nomination.

McCain redeemed himself in South Carolina, a state he lost eight years ago. He is positioned to become the favorite for the Republican nomination if he can win a four-way primary in Florida a week from Tuesday.

Mike Huckabee of Arkansas finished second in the first Southern contest despite an appeal to regional pride. Turnout by evangelical Christians was heavy, but their votes were split among several contenders.

In Nevada's caucuses, Clinton parlayed strong backing from women, Hispanics and older voters into a second straight win over Barack Obama, whose labor union supporters failed to deliver their members in large numbers.

Mitt Romney, the only major Republican contender to compete in Nevada, finished first in his party's caucuses.

"I guess this is how the West was won," Clinton, her voice raw from nonstop campaigning, told boisterous supporters in Las Vegas.

Clinton received the most precinct delegates at stake yesterday, but Obama claimed 13 national convention delegates to Clinton's 12. The actual selection of national delegates will take place at the state's Democratic convention in April.

The near-even split underscored the growing importance of delegate rules as the Democratic race becomes a two-person contest. Clinton and Obama have potent funding bases, making it likely that the campaign will extend beyond Super Tuesday to states such as Maryland, on Feb. 12, and for weeks after that.

Obama is favored to win the next Democratic primary, on Jan. 26 in South Carolina, where blacks are expected to account for half of the vote. The two parties are on separate tracks because of national party rules governing the primary calendar.

Nevada was the first test of strength among Latinos, a key Democratic constituency. According to an Election Day poll of voters as they entered caucus sites, Clinton outpolled Obama by a ratio of more than 2-to-1 among Hispanics, a lopsided advantage that could be crucial in future primaries.

John Edwards' distant third-place finish in Nevada could weaken his hold on white voters in South Carolina, his native state and the only primary he won four years ago. A shift of white voters from Edwards to Clinton could improve her chances of winning Saturday.

Clinton needs heavy support from white voters to offset Obama's expected advantage among blacks. In Nevada yesterday, he defeated Clinton among African-Americans by a 6-to-1 ratio, according to the entrance poll.

But Clinton carried white voters by a 52-34 margin. Almost three of five caucus-goers were women, and Clinton won a majority of their votes. Significantly, Clinton neutralized Obama's advantage among caucus-goers from union households.

Obama had the active support of the Culinary Workers Union, the state's largest. Nine of the state's caucuses were held at casinos where some of the union members work.

The entrance poll did not include voters from those locations. But among those surveyed at other caucus sites, Clinton and Obama evenly split the votes of the roughly 30 percent of caucus-goers from union households.

Former President Bill Clinton, who campaigned aggressively for his wife in the state last week, courted members of the Culinary Workers Union at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino on Friday and reported that many were planning to ignore their union's candidate.

When the caucus votes were counted, Clinton won at seven of the nine caucus sites.

Those results, in heavily unionized Nevada, were likely to again call into question the ability of organized labor to deliver on behalf of its endorsed candidates.

A relative lack of enthusiasm among younger voters also cost Obama. He did better than Clinton among voters younger than 45, but they made up 32 percent of the caucus vote, compared with 40 percent in Iowa, which he won.

More than one-third of the Nevada voters were older than 60, and Clinton beat Obama by a 2-to-1 ratio in that age group.

Among Republicans in Nevada, which has the nation's fourth-highest percentage of Mormons, almost half of Romney's votes came from fellow Mormons, according to the entrance poll.

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