The wild, unpredictable race for the White House finally got a dose of consistency on Saturday (January 19) when both parties saw candidates who had previously notched a primary or caucus victory adding to their successes. Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney — who previously won in the Democratic New Hampshire caucus and Republican Michigan primary, respectively — nabbed gold medals in Nevada, while Republican New Hampshire primary victor Senator John McCain pulled off an even bigger win in South Carolina.
Clinton, a junior senator, won by a slim over her chief rival, Senator Barack Obama, taking 51 percent to his 45 percent, with former Senator John Edwards well behind at 4 percent in the sparsely attended Nevada Democratic caucus.
With a head of steam coming off his crucial Tuesday victory in his home state of Michigan, Romney handily won the Republican caucus in Nevada with 51 percent of the vote. The former Massachusetts governor, who also won the Republican caucus in Wyoming, was trailed by Congressman Ron Paul, who landed a surprising 14 percent, and rival McCain, who earned 13.
McCain picked up his second win, taking the South Carolina primary by a 33- to 30-percent margin over former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. The win was a major one for McCain, who was polling behind Huckabee in the lead-up to the contest and was counting on a victory there to sustain his momentum and prove his electability in the South, which is a crucial region for any Republican presidential candidate to carry in order to win a national election. It was also a vindication for McCain in a state where he lost a bitterly fought contest with George W. Bush in 2000, a loss that helped derail his campaign that year.
“Thank you, South Carolina, for bringing us across the finish line first in the first-in-the-South primary,” McCain said in his victory speech. He praised the “deep patriotism” of the state, whose large population of war veterans might have helped tipped the outcome in favor of the Vietnam veteran. “It took a while, but what’s eight years among friends?”
Amid shouts of the now-familiar rallying cry “Mac is back,” McCain added, “My friends, as pleased as we are about the results — and we have a reason to celebrate tonight — I know that I must keep foremost in my mind that I’m not running for president to be somebody but to do something. … I’m running so that our children and their children will have even greater opportunities than the ones we were blessed with.”
McCain’s South Carolina win is also crucial because it is a state whose primary winner has gone on to win the Republican presidential nomination every time since 1980. According to CNN, pre-vote polling had Huckabee leading McCain by seven points, but speculation after the contest was centered on McCain drawing a higher percentage of traditional Republican voters and evangelicals than predicted, as well as getting a boost from the decent showing by former Senator Fred Thompson, who likely siphoned off some of the Huckabee vote. The contest was the end of the line for California Congressman Duncan Hunter, who got only 2 percent of the vote and had managed to get just one delegate during his run.
The win for Clinton was especially sweet since it came despite Obama winning the support of one of the state’s major unions, the Culinary Workers Union, whose 60,000 members were expected to give him a boost. It was, technically, her third win in a row, if you count her come-from-behind victory in New Hampshire and Tuesday’s win in Michigan, where she essentially ran unopposed because the state’s Democratic delegates were stripped as punishment for moving up their primary.
In a strange twist, while Clinton won the popular vote in Nevada, she actually lost to Obama in the delegate race in that state 13 to 12. Delegates are given out on a proportionate basis, based on the caucuses throughout the state, and because one of the state’s districts was split into three separate portions and Obama won two of them, he actually came out on top in the delegate count. According to The Associated Press, Clinton remarked that “nobody really knows” what the final delegate tally will be.
Some election officials said they were confused about Obama’s claim that he had won more delegates in Nevada than Clinton, though, according to The New York Times. “I don’t know why they’re saying that,” said Jill Derby, president of the Nevada State Democratic Party, referring to the Obama campaign. “We don’t select our national delegates the way they’re saying. We won’t select national delegates for a few more months.”
With the vote totals so close all day, McCain sought but failed to extend polling hours in South Carolina after reports began trickling in that some voting machines in the eastern part of the state had malfunctioned, according to CNN. The reported problems with 80 percent of the machines in Horry County were blamed on “human error,” caused by poll workers who failed to prep the electronic-voting machines properly. But by 4 p.m., only four of the county’s 118 precincts had faulty machines. AP reported on January 7 that South Carolina had planned to use touch-screen voting machines that had been banned by other states as unfit for use in elections. It is unknown if those machines were the ones that failed on Saturday.
Turnout was expected to be low because of rain and up to 4 inches of snow in some parts of South Carolina, deterring many voters from coming out. McCain, who has been banking on independent and crossover Democratic support in his presidential bid, was boosted by the fact that South Carolina has an open primary, meaning that registered voters can participate in either major party’s contest.
Meanwhile, Romney — who was already campaigning in Florida — issued a statement about his Nevada win, according to CNN. “Today, the people of Nevada voted for change in Washington. For far too long, our leaders have promised to take the action necessary to build a stronger America, and still the people of Nevada and all across this country are waiting,” he said, echoing a similar speech he gave following his Michigan win. “If you can win those two states — Michigan and Nevada — it means you have put together quite a coalition and have been able to make the kind of inroads you have to make to take the White House.”
With an almost daily stream of bad news about the economy, Romney notched his convincing win in Nevada by focusing on his strong background in the business world, as well as by appealing to the state’s large Mormon population, which made up 25 percent of all Republicans participating in the party’s caucuses.
“I guess this is how the West was won,” Clinton, the other Nevada winner, said in her victory speech. Then, taking on a more subdued tone, she added: “We will build on what we achieved here today and continue to make it clear here in Nevada and across the West that the Democrats, we’re the problem solvers. We have the answers for what we need to do to keep our country strong, and move with confidence and optimism into the future.”
The news in Nevada was grim for Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who finished in fifth place with 0 percent of the vote, placing him behind “uncommitted.” It was similarly dim for the Republicans who finished out of the running in Vegas — where most of the major candidates campaigned little or not at all in order to focus on South Carolina — with Huckabee coming in a distant fourth with 8 percent of the vote, followed by Fred Thompson at 7 percent and perennial cellar-dweller Rudy Giuliani in sixth place with just 5 percent. Thompson did, however, come in third in South Carolina, picking up 16 percent of the vote, followed by Romney at 15.
Former New York Mayor Giuliani has bet the house on a win in the Florida primary on January 29, where he has campaigned heavily in lieu of spending time in the other early primary and caucus states. At press time, though, McCain was polling slightly ahead of Giuliani in Florida, and the South Carolina win could help solidify his front-runner status in the GOP race. The Democratic primary in South Carolina takes place January 26. According to AP, in the overall race for delegates, Romney leads the Republican pack with 59, followed by Huckabee (40) and McCain (36). On the Democratic side, Clinton is ahead with 236, followed by Obama (136) and Edwards (50).
[This story was originally published at 10:14 p.m. ET on 01.19.2008]