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Clinton Scores Nevada Win Aided by Women's Vote

Jeff Zeleny and Jennifer Steinhauer|The New York Times
Sunday, 20 Jan 2008 | 11:17 AM ET

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton won the vote in the Nevada Democratic caucuses on Saturday, giving her a second consecutive victory in what is shaping up as a protracted battle with Senator Barack Obama.

Mrs. Clinton scored a clear victory measured in the number of people attending the caucuses on her behalf. But Mr. Obama’s campaign was successful by another measure — in the allocation of delegates to the national nominating convention, a result of a complex formula that gave more weight to votes in some parts of the state.

Another Democratic candidate, John Edwards, placed a distant third in Nevada, a state that he once viewed as crucial to his prospects. Mr. Edwards has a chance to rebound next Saturday in the primary election in South Carolina, where he was born. But the Democratic contest already appears to be turning into a long-term fight for delegates between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama.

The results in Nevada had encouraging signs for Mrs. Clinton. She did well among women and Hispanics, two constituencies she is counting on as the campaign heads toward a coast-to-coast showdown in 22 states on Feb. 5.

The battle was most fiercely fought in Las Vegas, particularly at the casinos that hosted some of the caucuses. This provided an odd tableau for a nominating contest: women in black-sequined cocktail dresses and neatly pressed maid uniforms, and men coming off their shifts in the bar and wearing sunglasses indoors as they voted.

The contest in Nevada drew record turnout among Democratic caucusgoers, a reflection of the intensity of the race. In hundreds of precinct caucuses, including nine casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, about 116,000 voters took part in the first Western contest in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination, 10 times the amount in the 2004 caucuses here.With 98 percent of the precincts reporting on Saturday night, Mrs. Clinton, of New York, had 51 percent of the vote and Mr. Obama, of Illinois, had 45 percent. Mr. Edwards, of North Carolina, came in with 4 percent, a surprisingly poor showing given the attention he had devoted to Nevada.

But the delegate count under the intricate rules of the caucuses appeared to favor Mr. Obama because of his support from a wide swath of the state, giving him 13 delegates compared with 12 for Mrs. Clinton.

In a statement, Mr. Obama noted that he had received one more delegate in Nevada than Mrs. Clinton because of a strong performance in precincts outside Las Vegas.

“We came from over 25 points behind to win more national convention delegates than Hillary Clinton,” Mr. Obama said, “because we performed well all across the state, including rural areas where Democrats have traditionally struggled.”

Strategists from both campaigns, as well as the Nevada Democratic Party, were poring over the returns several hours after the caucuses concluded. If the Democratic presidential race becomes a bare-knuckle fight to the nominating convention in August, the extra delegate for Mr. Obama could prove as important to him as the momentum that Mrs. Clinton might receive from winning the most votes in the state.

In a news conference with reporters before flying to a campaign event in Missouri on Saturday evening, Mrs. Clinton brushed aside questions about the delegate count.

“We’re looking really good,” Mrs. Clinton said. “I find it somewhat strange, actually, that there’s such a reaction when this was a very effective campaign to reach as many as people as possible.”

On the Republican side of the presidential race, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts easily won his party’s caucuses in Nevada, with 51 percent of the vote.

The Democratic results give the Clinton campaign a morale boost as it heads into the more challenging terrain of South Carolina, where Mr. Obama is hoping the large black Democratic electorate gives him his first victory since his first-place performance in the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3. South Carolina Democrats go to the polls in a primary election next Saturday.

The outcome in Nevada provided a fitting coda to the campaign in the state, which was selected to play an early role in the presidential nominating contest because of its diversity and to signal the importance Western states hold for Democrats. It was the most chaotic of the early-voting states, with no precedent for holding such a contest, allegations of political high jinks and a late lawsuit that challenged holding caucuses in casinos.

“I don’t want to say it’s embarrassing, because I’m here, but I do see why people would think it’s strange that we are voting in a casino,” said Tiffany Romero, 31, a barista who participated at Wynn Las Vegas. “It’s not normal from what our country is doing, but this is Las Vegas.”

Indeed, when the caucuses commenced at noon, it was a curious scene.

Voters not only went to scores of schools and community centers across the state, but they also weaved their way through slot machines and bar stools to participate. Maids and cooks, bellmen and bartenders, nearly all of whom wore their uniforms and matching name tags, were granted a lunch break to attend the caucuses.

At Flamingo Las Vegas, one of the at-large caucus sites, 245 voters inside the Sunset Ballroom registered their attendance before breaking off into a corner to stand for their preferred candidate. As many of the voters ate from a boxed lunch, the caucus rules were translated into Spanish.

In this caucus site, as well as others along the Las Vegas Strip, the clout of Mr. Obama’s endorsement from the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 came into question, with people dividing nearly equally between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton. (Associates of the Clinton campaign had sought to block the casino caucuses, but in the end, they turned out to be nearly a wash.)

Mrs. Clinton received half of the women voters, according to a poll of voters entering the caucuses on Saturday conducted by Edison/Mitofsky. She received about half of white voters and almost two-thirds of Hispanic voters. More than three-quarters of black voters supported Mr. Obama.

Mrs. Clinton handily won Clark County, home to Las Vegas and its influential union blocs, by a 10 point margin with 98 percent of the precincts reporting. In the final week of the race, the endorsement from the 60,000-member culinary union injected controversy into the contest, prompting the lawsuit as well as allegations of intimidation.

“They were bullying and threatening us to vote for Obama,” said Steve Gelt, who works in the coffee shop at the Flamingo and has been a member of the union for 12 years. “I like them all; I’m a Democrat. But that’s why I went for Hillary.”

Mr. Gelt said he wished the union would not have weighed in.

The campaign took on an increasingly negative tone, with phone calls identifying Mr. Obama as “Barack Hussein Obama” and Spanish language radio ads suggesting that Mrs. Clinton “does not respect our people.”

Several Nevada voters, though, said they were accustomed to such political tactics.

“They think that we’re backcountry and we’re just a bunch of hillbillies or whatever, but I think there are a lot of people here who are well educated and are read-up on the issues,” said Fred Slaughter, 71, who attended his first caucus in Pahrump. “We’re going to be surprising to a lot of people.”

Steve Friess and Patrick Healy contributed reporting from Las Vegas, and Julie Bosman from Atlanta.

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