McCain wins South Carolina primary
By DAVID ESPO, AP Special Correspondent 19 minutes ago
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
"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."
If the Democrats had co-front-runners, the Republicans
had none, and looked to the first southern state
primary to begin winnowing an unwieldy field.
McCain defeated former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in
a close race in the state that snuffed out his
presidential hopes eight years ago. The Arizonan was
gaining 33 percent of the vote to just under 30
percent for his closest rival.
"It just took us a while. That's all. Eight years is
not a long time," McCain told the AP.
Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson was in a struggle
for third place with about 16 percent, after saying he
needed a strong showing to sustain his candidacy.
Another Republican, California Rep. Duncan Hunter,
dropped out even before the votes were tallied.
Interviews with South Carolina voters leaving their
polling places indicated that McCain, an Arizona
senator, and Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor,
were dividing the Republican vote evenly. As was his
custom, McCain was winning the votes of self-described
South Carolina was the second half of a campaign
double-header for Republicans.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney cruised to
victory earlier in the day in the little-contested
No matter the state, the economy was the top issue in
all three races on the ballot.
Republicans in Nevada and South Carolina cited
immigration as their second most-important concern.
Among Democrats in Nevada, health care was the second
most-important issue followed by the Iraq war, which
has dominated the race for months.
With three contests on the ballot, it was the busiest
day of the presidential campaign to date, and
fittingly enough for a pair of wide-open races, every
contest produced a different winner.
Romney rolled to victory in Nevada Republican
caucuses, winning roughly 50 percent of the vote in a
With a black man and a woman as the leading
contenders, the Democratic race was history in the
making and increasingly testy, as well.
Before the votes were tallied, Obama was critical of
former President Clinton, telling reporters, "It's
hard to say what his intentions are. But I will say
that he seems to be making a habit of
mischaracterizing what I say."
Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, issued a
written statement accused the Clinton campaign of "an
entire week's worth of false, divisive attacks
designed to mislead caucus-goers and discredit the
Clinton declined to comment on the allegation.
Whatever the hard feelings, she told supporters they
would fade by the fall general election campaign. "We
will all be united in November," she said, as the
crowd chanted "HRC, HRC."
Her campaign issued a statement citing numerous
reports of voter intimidation. It also accused UNITE
HERE, a union supporting Obama, of running a radio
commercial that was "one of the most scurrilous smears
in recent memory." The ad, broadcast in Spanish, said
Clinton "does not respect our people" and called her
Interviews with Democratic caucus-goers indicated that
Clinton fashioned her victory by winning about half
the votes cast by whites, and two-thirds support from
Hispanics, many members of a Culinary Workers Union
that had endorsed Obama. He won about 80 percent of
the black vote.
Obama had pinned his Nevada hopes on an outpouring of
support from the 60,000-member union. But it appeared
that turnout was lighter than expected at nine
caucuses established along the Las Vegas Strip, and
some attending held signs reading, "I support my
union. I support Hillary."
Democrats looked next to South Carolina to choose
between Obama, the most viable black candidate in
history, and Clinton, seeking to become the first
woman to occupy the White House. The state is home to
thousands of black voters, who are expected to
comprise as much as half the Democratic electorate.
After that, the race goes national, with more than 20
states holding primaries and caucuses on Feb. 5 and
1,678 national Democratic convention delegates at
The split Democratic verdict in Nevada resulted from
the proportional manner in which delegates were
awarded. Obama emerged with one more than Clinton
because he ran strongly in rural areas.
Overall, Clinton leads the delegates race with 236,
including separately chosen party and elected
officials known as superdelegates. Obama has a total
of 136, and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards
Romney struck first on the day among the Republicans.
The former Massachusetts governor learned of his
Nevada victory when his wife Ann announced it on the
public address system of his chartered jet. "Keep 'em
coming. Keep 'em coming," he said.
Romney had campaigned for months to win early contests
in Iowa and New Hampshire, and his candidacy was in
trouble when he lost both. He retooled his appeal to
the voters in the days leading to the Michigan
primary, though, focusing on the economy and
trumpeting his experience as a businessman.
En route to Florida, he presented reporters with his
ambitious economic stimulus plan, $233 billion in all.
It includes tax rebates as well as tax cuts for
individuals, as well as tax cuts for businesses.
Nevada Republicans said the economy and illegal
immigration were their top concerns, according to a
survey of voters entering the caucuses. Romney led
among voters who cited both issues.
Mormons gave Romney about half his votes. He is hoping
to become the first member of his faith to win the
White House. Alone among the Republican contenders,
Rep. Ron Paul of Texas aired television ads in Nevada.
Nearly complete returns showed Romney winning more
than 50 percent of the vote, with Paul and McCain far
behind vying for second. Thompson and Huckabee
Romney also won at least 17 of the 31 Republican
National Convention delegates at stake. McCain and
Paul won at least four apiece, while Thompson and
Huckabee each won two. Hunter and Rudy Giuliani each
won one delegate the first of the campaign for the
former New York mayor.
Nevada offered more delegates 31 versus 24 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 Thompson, who staked his
candidacy on a strong showing, as well as for Romney,
McCain and Huckabee.
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
Romney campaigned on a pledge to help restore the
state's economy, much as he did in winning Michigan.
In South Carolina, the economy and immigration were
cited as top issues, with more than half the voters
saying illegal immigrants should be deported.
Conservatives and white evangelical voters turned out
in heavy numbers, according to the polling place
Survey data in both states were from polls conducted
for The Associated Press and the television networks
by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.
South Carolina primary voters coped with equipment
difficulty and bad weather. Election officials in the
area around Myrtle Beach brought out paper ballots
after some electronic voting machines failed to work
properly. Snow fell in the northern part of the state,
which has little snow removal equipment.