McCain, Clinton Claim New Victories

CHARLESTON, South Carolina -- John McCain on Sunday called the Republican presidential contest "still very competitive," but said his South Carolina win gave him momentum heading into the next big battle in Florida. The Democrats looked ahead to a showdown in their party's South Carolina primary after Hillary Rodham Clinton edged out Barack Obama in Nevada.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney cruised to victory in the little-contested Republican caucuses in Nevada on Saturday.

Clinton, the New York senator and former first lady, captured the popular vote among Democrats Saturday in Nevada, gaining support of about 51 percent of caucus-goers to Obama's 45 percent. But the Illinois senator won slightly more national convention delegates, taking 13 to her 12.

Their next battle will be the Democrats' first in the South, where Obama is relying on black voters, who make up more than half of the South Carolina Democratic electorate, to give him a winning edge. Most polls have him leading Clinton in the state. But Clinton has won over many influential black leaders and had led in the state before Obama's Iowa victory established him as a strong contender in Saturday's primary.

Overall, Clinton leads the Democrats' delegate race with 236, including separately chosen party and elected officials known as superdelegates. Obama has a total of 136. Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards is trailing with 50 delegates, making it crucial that he has a strong showing in the upcoming races.

Among the Republicans, McCain quickly predicted that victory in the first southern primary would help him on Jan. 29 when Florida votes, and again on Feb. 5, dubbed "Super Tuesday," when 22 states hold primaries and caucuses.

McCain took a swipe Sunday at Rudy Giuliani, who avoided the early primary states to make his first big stand in Florida. McCain said he expected to come under heavy criticism from the former New York mayor.

"If someone hasn't run a primary, I can understand why they would attack the front-runner," McCain told reporters at a news conference.

McCain clearly was buoyed by the victory, his second this season after winning the New Hampshire primary earlier this month. In 2000, McCain was defeated in South Carolina by then-Texas Governor George W. Bush, a loss that effectively ended that campaign.

The winner of the South Carolina Republican primary has gone on to become the party's eventual nominee every four years since 1980, when Ronald Reagan first won the White House.

"Right now, we're enjoying the win," said McCain, whose campaign was left for dead six months ago. "I certainly enjoy being the underdog. I much more enjoy being ahead."