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Clinton, Romney win Nevada
COLUMBIA, South Carolina |
COLUMBIA, South Carolina (Reuters) - Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Mitt Romney won Nevada's presidential nominating contests on Saturday, and voters in South Carolina cast ballots as an unpredictable White House race moved to the U.S. South and West.
Clinton, a New York senator, beat rival Barack Obama in a hotly contested Nevada race that could give her new momentum in a seesawing nomination battle to select the Republican and Democratic candidates who will vie in the November election. The two had split the first two contests.
Romney won decisively among Republicans in a Nevada race his rivals largely skipped to concentrate on South Carolina, where John McCain and Mike Huckabee were running close ahead of voting in a campaign focused on the economy.
Clinton and Obama, an Illinois senator, traded charges of voter suppression and harassment in the final hours before the vote in Nevada, where workers at Las Vegas's casino hotels participated at nine locations on the city's famed strip.
Clinton led polls in the state for months heading into the contest, but Obama was lifted by the endorsement of a powerful labor union that represents about 60,000 workers in the state's tourist hotels.
The Nevada Democratic race, the first test of strength in a state with a large Hispanic population, was complicated by uncertainties about turnout. Only 9,000 Democrats took part in Nevada's caucuses in 2004 but turnout was reported to be much heavier this time.
Romney's convincing win in Nevada followed his breakthrough victory in Michigan last week after two disappointing second-place finishes for the former Massachusetts governor.
While most Republican candidates were in South Carolina, Romney was in Nevada stressing his ability as a former business executive to tackle economic problems.
Exit polls showed the economy was the top concern among Nevada's Republican voters, followed closely by immigration.
"Today, the people of Nevada voted for change in Washington," Romney said in a statement celebrating his win. "Now, Washington must act and take the steps necessary to strengthen our economy."
The issue has taken center stage amid worries about a possible recession in the United States in this election year.
President George W. Bush on Friday unveiled an economic stimulus plan of up to $150 billion in temporary tax breaks and other measures.
In South Carolina, Romney and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson hoped to push their way to the top in a state where since 1980 the Republican winner has gone on to capture the party's presidential nomination.
Cold rain fell across the state and snow was predicted in the north. Voting ends in South Carolina at 7 p.m. EST, with results expected soon afterward.
"Our voters are committed," Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, said as he huddled under an umbrella in suburban Columbia. "We'll find out if they're committed enough to brave the elements."
No one in either party has claimed the role of favorite in the race to pick the two candidates to contest the November 4 election to succeed Bush, with the first major state-by-state battles producing multiple winners.
For the victors on Saturday, the prize is a jolt of energy in a race where momentum has been short-lived. Republican contenders head next to Florida for a January 29 primary, while Democrats focus on their party's primary next Saturday in South Carolina.
Both parties then turn their attention to the critical February 5 "Super Tuesday" round of 22 state contests.
Huckabee, a Baptist preacher before he entered politics, has been reminding South Carolina crowds of his Southern roots and hopes to make inroads with the state's large bloc of evangelicals, a group that fueled his win in Iowa.
McCain, an Arizona senator who won New Hampshire's Republican primary election, saw his 2000 presidential bid crippled by a bitter loss to Bush in South Carolina and has tried to mend fences with his old foes in the state.
In Charleston, McCain marked voting day by visiting a plant where high-tech military Humvee vehicles are built, then greeted voters at a polling station in a light rain.
Asked how he felt, he said: "Good good. You never know with this weather but great, feeling good."
(Additional reporting by Jane Sutton and Steve Holland in South Carolina, Jeff Mason and Adam Tanner in Nevada; Editing by John O'Callaghan)
(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)
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