Republican John McCain and Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton were victors in contentious nominating contests, but neither party can claim front-runners as early presidential contests give way to big-state battles.
McCain, an Arizona senator, bested Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, in a South Carolina fight that focused on the economy. McCain was defeated here in 2000 by George W. Bush.
“Thank you, my friends, and thank you, South Carolina, for bringing us across the finish line first in the first-in-the-South primary. It took us a while. But what’s eight years among friends,” McCain told a boisterous crowd of supporters at a victory rally.
Attention turns to Florida, which votes on Jan. 29, followed by contests in 22 states on February 5.
On the Democratic side, Clinton beat rival Barack Obama in a tight Nevada contest. She won the popular vote but Obama won more delegates.
Among Republicans, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney cruised to victory in the little-contested GOP Nevada caucuses.
But McCain’s victory in South Carolina could shake up the GOP contest and give him political grasp. McCain won in New Hampshire but placed second to Romney in Michigan.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” McCain told The Associated Press in an interview. The man whose campaign was left for dead six months ago predicted that victory in the first southern primary would help him next week when Florida votes, and again on Feb. 5.
On the Democratic side, Clinton claimed the Nevada vote as a victory. “This is one step on a long journey,” Clinton told cheering supporters in Las Vegas. She captured the popular vote, but Obama edged her out for national convention delegates at stake, taking 13 to her 12.
Obama issued a statement that said he had conducted an “honest, uplifting campaign … that appealed to people’s hopes instead of their fears.”