The Republican rollercoaster

The Republican presidential race, it appears, has taken on the qualities of a kaleidoscope.

Every primary or caucus, the winner looks inside and sees something else, underscoring the volatile nature of a 2008 nominating contest that is still moving toward clarity.

Leading contenders are emerging, hangers-on are dropping away and in less than 10 days, the viability of Rudy Giuliani’s unconventional political strategy will be judged in plain view.

McCain wins South Carolina

Sen. John McCain won a hard-fought South Carolina primary Saturday night, avenging a bitter personal defeat in a bastion of conservatism and gaining ground in an unpredictable race for the Republican presidential nomination. Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama split the spoils in Nevada caucuses marred by late charges of dirty politics.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” McCain told The Associated Press in an interview. He quickly predicted that his victory in the first southern primary would help him next week when Florida votes, and again on Feb. 5 when more than two dozen states hold primaries and caucuses.

Clinton, Romney capture Nevada

Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton won the Nevada caucuses Saturday, powering past Sen. Barack Obama in a hard-fought race marred by late charges of dirty politics. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney coasted to an easy win in the Republican contest.

The victory marked a second-straight campaign triumph for the former first lady, who scored a New Hampshire primary upset last week and is locked in a historic, increasingly tense struggle with Obama.

Romney cruises to Nevada win

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.

Democrats turn up the heat

Forget the coded messages, the oblique attacks, the indirect putdowns. When it came to courting Nevada voters, the Democratic presidential candidates had a brawl.

The week leading to the Nevada caucuses was one of the most contentious in the Democratic contest so far. The three Democratic candidates head to South Carolina, which holds its primary Jan. 26, with no sign the race will turn genteel in the South.

Voting today in S.C., Nevada

Voters in Nevada and South Carolina make their choices on Saturday in a chaotic U.S. presidential race, with polls showing tight struggles in both states as nominating battles move to the South and West.

In South Carolina, Republicans John McCain and Mike Huckabee are battling for the lead in a race focused on economic worries, while Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson hope to shove their way to the top in a state where Republicans have a history as kingmakers.

McCain rises while Rudy drops

John McCain, whose presidential candidacy nearly collapsed six months ago, has soared to the front of the crowded Republican field while last year’s national GOP front-runner, Rudy Giuliani, saw his standing plummet over the past month, a new poll shows.

Among Democrats, Hillary Rodham Clinton still has a lead but rival Barack Obama has started to close the gap.

In both races, the dynamic could shift overnight. The South Carolina GOP primary as well as Nevada’s Democratic and Republican caucuses set for Saturday could upend the fights for the two party nominations.