"Today's caucus was a tremendous success," said Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate's majority leader. "Well over 100,000 Nevadans got out and made their voices heard."
Romney laid groundwork early for the GOP race and opened up a big poll lead as caucus day approached. The Republican contest was overshadowed by the South Carolina GOP primary, where the race was tight between Mike Huckabee and Sen. John McCain, and by the fierce Democratic contest here.
Romney and anti-war Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, were the only Republicans who had a campaign presence here. The other major GOP candidates were busy in South Carolina and Florida, which votes Jan. 29, and did not contest Nevada.
Surveys of voters as they entered the caucuses showed Romney won 9 out of 10 Mormons, who comprised about a fifth of participants, the Associated Press reported. He also did well among older voters and those making more than $100,000 a year. Romney said in Florida that he would have won even if no Mormons had participated in the caucuses.
Democrats moved Nevada to an early calendar slot to give the West, Hispanics and labor more of a voice in choosing a nominee. It was initially unclear how much time or money candidates would spend on the state, but Clinton, Obama and Edwards all concluded a win here would be valuable.
Edwards hasn't won a contest yet. Obama needed to reinforce confidence among South Carolina's black voters that he has broad appeal. Clinton sought to restore some of the aura of inevitability that vanished when she lost Iowa and scraped to a narrow surprise victory in New Hampshire.
The three Democrats showed up at restaurants, community centers and high schools from Reno and Elko to Pahrump, Henderson and Vegas, creating buzz wherever they went. Nevada voters were thrilled by all the unfamiliar attention.
"They've never come this close to home before," said Helen Byrne, 49, of Las Vegas. "Voters and the media and everyone else are tuned in to our little town that's more than just casinos. There are people who live here and have regular jobs." She said she works in a bank.
Paul Kane, 44, psychotherapist from Las Vegas, attended a Bill Clinton event in Las Vegas late Friday afternoon and said he'd work at a caucus for Hillary Clinton. "You can feel there's more importance to our votes," he said. "It's an opportunity. We should act on it. It's a privilege."
The Democratic battle was notably more contentious than the earlier rounds in Iowa and New Hampshire. Edwards campaigned doggedly, but declined in polls.
Clinton and Obama, meanwhile, slugged it out over a range of issues.
•On the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository: Both oppose it, and they both get campaign donations from nuclear energy companies.
•On Obama's comments on Ronald Reagan and Republican ideas: Obama said they challenged conventional wisdom. Clinton said the ideas, such as privatizing Social Security and eliminating the minimum wage, were bad. Obama's spokesman said Clinton voted for the worst GOP idea of all, the Iraq war.
The pair also dueled over Hispanic votes, going door-to-door and hotel-to-hotel, and announcing a series of dueling endorsements. Clinton enlisted "Ugly Betty" star America Ferrera and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Obama's main claim was the culinary union, which is 40% Hispanic.
The two camps also went head to head over a radio ad by UNITE HERE, the Culinary's parent union. The ad accused Clinton of letting her allies try to block Hispanic workers's voting rights.
It was a reference to a last-minute lawsuit to kill the nine caucuses on the Strip. The suit was filed two days after the union endorsed Obama.