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Romney projected to win Nevada GOP caucuses

(CNN) — Sen. Hillary Clinton will win the Nevada Democratic caucuses, CNN projects.

The New York senator led rival Barack Obama by 8 percentage points with about half of the precincts reporting.

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards was a distant third.

On the Republican side, CNN projects Mitt Romney as the winner of Saturday’s GOP caucuses in Nevada, based on entrance polls and early returns.

Romney was cruising with 55 percent of the vote in early returns, but a dogfight was on for second place.

Romney issued a statement Saturday afternoon.

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.

Whether it is reforming health care, making America energy independent or securing the border, the American people have been promised much and are now ready for change, the statement said.

At the same early stage, Sen. John McCain and Rep. Ron Paul were in a close race for second place, ahead of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Sen. Fred Thompson.

Also on Saturday, Republicans were voting in a primary election in South Carolina, where results were expected to come in later. Watch how candidates are competing in South Carolina

The two contests could propel two candidates to front-runner status and winnow the field in this year’s wide-open presidential races. See scenes from Saturday’s races

Economic issues were foremost in the minds of Nevada GOP voters, and that worked in favor of Romney, who has earned a reputation as a successful businessman.

In a CNN entrance poll Saturday morning, 38 percent of Nevada caucus participants cited the economy as their most important issue.

Of those, 47 percent said they were caucusing for Romney, and 26 percent favored Paul.

The second most important issue for Nevada Republicans was illegal immigration, at 34 percent.

Nevada marks the second straight win for the former Massachusetts governor, following a win in the Michigan primary earlier in the week.

Even though the Republican Party cut in half the number of delegates the state party can send to the national convention as punishment for moving its caucuses to Saturday, Nevada has more delegates at stake than South Carolina.

In a presidential race that’s increasingly coming down to who has the most delegates, a win helps Romney.

Romney also benefited from his Mormon religion, the poll results show. Romney captured 94 percent of the voters who identified themselves as Mormon, which made up 25 percent of all Republicans participating in the GOP caucuses.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints estimates there are 170,000 members living in Nevada.

A win in the South Carolina Republican primary could give one of the candidates a foot up in a race that, so far, has produced three different winners in three major contests.

South Carolina is the state where the Republican base passes judgment on the candidates, CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider said. If conservatives are going to rally behind any single contender, we’ll see that happen in South Carolina.

The weather could become a significant factor in the race. Cold rain was falling across the state, and snow was reported in spots.

Snow is rare in South Carolina and brings the state to a standstill when it falls, even in small amounts.

The latest polling in South Carolina had Huckabee as the front-runner. An American Research Group poll conducted January 17-18 had Huckabee leading at 33 percent, followed by Sen. John McCain at 26 percent.

Thompson was at 21 percent and the poll found and Romney was running fourth at 9 percent. All other candidates were in single digits. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

No GOP candidate has gone on to win his party’s nomination without winning South Carolina since Ronald Reagan won there in 1980, but, with the race so volatile, that may not hold true this year.

Right now, conservatives are split. Economic conservatives like Mitt Romney, social conservatives like Huckabee, and military conservatives like John McCain, Schneider said. They could end up just as divided after the South Carolina vote.

Democrats, shifting their focus west to their caucuses in Nevada, face a much different race than the earlier contests back East.

The Democratic candidates are battling for momentum going into Super Tuesday, February 5, Schneider said. Obama had it after Iowa. Clinton had it after New Hampshire. If Obama wins Nevada, January 19, and then South Carolina a week later, he’ll have the ‘Big Mo.’

Clinton’s best shot is to win Nevada, Schneider said. That way, she can split the week with Obama, who is likely to win South Carolina on a strong African-American vote. What would that mean? Probably ‘No Mo’ going into Super Tuesday.

Nevada has a heavily unionized work force, and union support could be a huge factor in the outcome of the Democratic race there.

Obama gained an advantage when he was endorsed by the 60,000-strong Culinary Workers Union, whose members work in Las Vegas and Reno casinos and hotels as kitchen workers, cocktail servers, housekeepers and bellhops.

Obama’s cause gained a boost Thursday when a judge allowed nine at-large caucus sites in Las Vegas casinos, to allow those who work at night to caucus.

Nevada will also be the first test of the Democratic candidates’ support among Hispanics. Democrats moved Nevada’s primary up, in part, to showcase the Hispanic vote, and all the major Democratic candidates are vying to capture it. Watch what role the Hispanic vote plays in Nevada

Nevada has the fastest-growing Hispanic population in the nation, with one out of every five residents now identifying themselves as Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Hispanics make up 12 percent of Nevada’s eligible voters, compared with 9 percent of eligible voters nationally.
Romney projected to win Nevada GOP caucuses – found here.

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January 19, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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