Mitt Romney took Nevada's Republican caucuses Saturday, while Democrats debated whether their party had rendered a split decision.
New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton won the vote count among those at the caucuses, but Illinois Sen. Barack Obama claimed a slight advantage in national convention delegates on the strength of his showing in rural areas.
The hard-fought Democratic race was the party's first in the West. "We will build on what we achieved here today and continue to make clear here in Nevada and across the West (that) Democrats — we're the problem solvers," Clinton said this evening. "We have the answers for what we need to do to keep our country strong."
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, said in Florida that the win here is "huge for us." He said his victories in Wyoming, Michigan and Nevada show he's "made the inroads you need" to win the White House.
Clinton's 6-point victory in the caucus vote continued a comeback she began in New Hampshire on Jan. 8 and gave her momentum going into the South Carolina primary a week from now. She told cheering supporters that "this is how the West was won."
An endorsement from the Culinary Workers Union had been expected to give Obama a boost at nine special caucus sites for shift workers on the Las Vegas Strip. But he only won two of them.
Obama said in a statement released by his campaign around 6:15 p.m. ET that he came from 25 points behind and nearly beat Clinton today because he did well across all of Nevada — "including rural areas where Democrats have traditionally struggled."
The tensions as the Democrats head into the South Carolina primary in a week were apparent in comments from the two leading candidates. Clinton, asked why Nevada voters put her several points ahead of Obama, replied: "They want somebody who's going to give them solutions, not just rhetoric."
Obama did not congratulate Clinton in his statement. He said he was proud of his own effort: "We ran an honest, uplifting campaign in Nevada that focused on the real problems Americans are facing, a campaign that appealed to people's hopes instead of their fears. That's the campaign we'll take to South Carolina and across America in the weeks to come."
Obama's campaign said his performance in rural areas of the state helped him win a total of 13 national convention delegates, versus 12 for Clinton. Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said that demonstrated Obama's strengths as a general-election candidate in November.
If those delegate totals hold, he was asked, would that mean Obama won? Delegates, he said, "are an important measure" because the nomination contest is turning into a protracted fight for delegates.
The Associated Press supported Obama's calculations, explaining that, "in most areas of the state where Clinton got the most votes, the party awarded an even number of delegates, so Obama and Clinton split them evenly. In some rural areas where Obama did better, the party awarded an odd number of delegates, allowing Obama to wind up with the additional delegate."
Clinton, asked if she had won the most delegates, replied: "Well nobody really knows. Obviously this is about delegates, but it's also about what people are voting for and who they think the best president will be."