Republican Mitt Romney won Nevada’s caucuses Saturday while John McCain and Mike Huckabee dueled in the South Carolina primary, a campaign doubleheader likely to winnow the crowded field of presidential rivals.
Democrats shared the stage in Nevada, where Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama vied for a caucus victory and the campaign momentum that goes with it.
Romney’s western victory marked two straight successes, coming after a win in the Michigan primary earlier in the week that revived his campaign.
Alone among the Republican contenders, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas aired television ads in Nevada, and the libertarian-leaning Texan looked for his best showing of the campaign season.
Nevada offered more delegates but far less appeal to the Republican candidates than South Carolina, a primary that has gone to the party’s eventual nominee every four years since 1980.
That made it a magnet for former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who staked his candidacy on a strong showing, as well as for Romney, McCain, the Arizona senator; and Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas.
McCain, a former Vietnam prisoner of war, appealed to a large population of military veterans in South Carolina, and stressed his determination to rein in federal spending as he worked to avenge a bitter defeat in the 2000 primary.
Huckabee reached out to evangelical Christian voters, hoping to rebound from a string of disappointing showings since his victory in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses.
Romney campaigned on a pledge to help restore the state’s economy, much as he did in winning Michigan.
Alone among the major Republican contenders, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani skipped the day’s events. He camped out in Florida, the first of the big states to vote, with a winner-take-all primary on Jan. 29.
If the Republican race had no clear front-runner, the Democrats had two, and little room in the campaign spotlight for the third man on the ballot, former Sen. John Edwards.
Obama and Clinton both ran all-out in Nevada, even though only 25 delegates are at stake.
Obama won the backing of an influential Culinary Workers Union. That, in turn, led to an unsuccessful lawsuit by some of Clinton’s supporters who hoped to ban specially arranged caucuses along the Las Vegas Strip that could draw thousands of unionized casino and hotel workers.
Obama, hoping to become the first black president, spent nearly $1 million in television commercials. Clinton, campaigning to become the country’s first woman chief executive, ran nearly $700,000 worth of commercials, and a union group backed her with nearly $100,000 on an independent ad campaign.
Former President Clinton was a constant presence, as well, in a state he carried twice on his own in 1992 and 1996.
Remarkably, neither Obama nor Clinton has aired a television commercial criticizing the other, and both of the rivals stepped back earlier in the week from a controversy over race. But that didn’t prevent almost constant sniping between the two camps, each pointing out alleged inconsistencies in the other’s record.
A wild card in the South Carolina GOP race was the wintry weather. In northern areas of the state, snow was forecast and expected to intensify through the day.
Bad weather and some last-minute push polling could put a damper on turnout for the primary, with first-time voters, senior citizens, independents and those still wavering staying home, according to political experts.
Huckabee, greeting voters at a polling place, said he was worried turnout in the more conservative upstate regions.
“You never know how that’s going to affect people who will go your way or the other way,” he told reporters. “And obviously, the upstate is an important part of South Carolina for us, and if it starts snowing up there, that’s something we hope doesn’t happen. But we have to take the weather what it is. We don’t get to choose.
“I just hope that our voters are so committed that it doesn’t affect the fact that they’re going to go out and vote, because they believe this is a mission,” Huckabee said.
In southern areas of the state, a misty rain greeted people at the polls.
Doug Pinkerton, a financial adviser, was among about 20 people who voted early in Mount Pleasant.
“Giuliani was my original favorite, but he seems to be running such a halfhearted campaign and putting it all on Florida. I just think that was a bad idea. If he had campaigned here more and showed some interest I probably would have voted for him, but I think that Romney will be the candidate,” said Pinkerton, 59.
David Dawson, an information technology manager, said he cast his vote for McCain because he believed the Arizona senator is the most honest. “I rely on him to tell us the truth whether we like it or not. That is pretty much it,” said Dawson, 32.
Across the country in Las Vegas, Romney handed out coffee and doughnuts to a crowd of supporters outside a caucus site that included two of his nieces from California, part of a crowd of door-knockers who have been helping his campaign.
Romney made seven campaign trips to Nevada, and polls showed him leading.
“It’s hard to know in a caucus just who’s going to come out,” Romney said as he signed autographs and posed for pictures. “I saw the poll in the paper and that looked very encouraging and I’ve been working hard in Nevada.”
Associated Press writers Seanna Adcox and Libby Quaid, both in Columbia, S.C., Bruce Smith in Mount Pleasant, S.C., and Glen Johnson in Las Vegas contributed to this report.