South Carolina Primary a GOP Battle; in Nevada, Race Divides Democrats

A battle between opposing wings of the Republican Party made it a tight contest in South Carolina, where evangelicals and strong conservatives boosted former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — but not by enough to overcome Arizona Sen. John McCain's broad support from moderates and independents.

There was another kind of division 2,200 miles to the west, in the Nevada Democratic caucuses: Black caucus-goers overwhelmingly supported Illinois Sen. Barack Obama over New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, 83 percent to 14 percent; Clinton won whites by 18 points, and Hispanics by an even broader ratio, more than 2-1.

That produced her victory, but it raises questions for her prospects in the Democrats' South Carolina primary next week. Blacks may account for half the turnout there.

Mitt Romney won the third race of the day, the Republican caucuses in Nevada, perhaps chiefly because he tried; he was the only major candidate to campaign seriously in the state. Ron Paul battled for second with McCain, a sign of what an insurgent with a committed base can do in a low-turnout contest.

SOUTH — The South Carolina Republican contest was the marquee event, and one that lived up to its billing. Evangelicals accounted for 59 percent of voters in the state, and Huckabee won them by 40 percent to 27 percent over McCain. A third of the voters were "very" conservative; they went for Huckabee by a 2-1 ratio over McCain, 38 percent to 19 percent.

But Huckabee endured a notably broad level of rejection by nonevangelical voters: Just 12 percent of them voted for the Baptist minister vs. 40 percent for McCain, 21 percent for Romney and 15 percent for Fred Thompson. Huckabee's relative confinement in the evangelical and very conservative base is an issue for him down the road.

McCain, for his part, was +4 among "somewhat" conservatives, held a big lead among moderates and the few liberals voting in the GOP primary and racked up a 17-point advantage among independents. With that he won.

But Huckabee did well enough with McCain among mainline Republicans to make it a tight race, and to raise the same questions about McCain that have lingered since 2000: whether he can do well enough among Republicans and conservatives to win the nomination of the mainly conservative Republican Party.

Indeed McCain didn't do much better in core Republican groups this year than in 2000. McCain won 30 percent of party regulars voting in the state, similar to his 26 percent in 2000; and he won 26 percent of conservatives, compared with his 29 percent in 2000.

The difference was that last time these groups coalesced around his only opponent, George W. Bush, who won more than six in 10 conservative and Republican voters in South Carolina eight years ago. Their fragmentation this time among a greater choice of candidates — Huckabee, Romney and Thompson, as well as McCain — made the race a different one.

Huckabee easily won the No. 1 candidate attribute, someone who "shares my values"; 43 percent said it mattered most in their vote and 45 percent of them favored him, to Thompson's 19 percent and McCain's 14 percent. McCain came back strongly among voters more concerned with experience, and narrowly beat Huckabee among voters most concerned with the candidate who "says what he believes."

A narrow majority of voters in South Carolina, 52 percent, said they cared most about their candidate's position on the issues rather than his personal qualities, and this group went to Huckabee over McCain by an 8-point margin. McCain fought back among those more concerned about personal qualities.

McCain also was assisted by veterans; a quarter of voters (their customary turnout) favored him over Huckabee. And McCain won by a substantial margin among senior citizens, while Huckabee did better with those younger than 40. Fully 45 percent of McCain's supporters were 60 or older.

On issues, just one sharply differentiated the field: McCain won very widely among 16 percent who called the war in Iraq the top issue in their vote, 49 percent to 22 percent over Huckabee.

NEVADA DEMS — In the Nevada Democratic race, Clinton, despite losing the endorsement of the Culinary Workers Union to Obama, was competitive nonetheless among voters from union households; they divided 45 percent to 44 percent. Among non union-household voters she beat Obama by 9 points.

Clinton was helped by a heavy turnout by Democratic regulars — they accounted for eight in 10 caucus-goers, and she won their initial preference by 12 points. Obama won independents by about the same margin, but there were far fewer of them.

Obama prevailed as the candidate who can bring about needed change — the No. 1. attribute by far — but Clinton came back on other attributes, notably having the right experience. And she had a wide advantage among the roughly 50 percent of voters who made up their minds more than a month ago.

Clinton ran about evenly with Obama among men, but prevailed among women. While she lost the youngest caucus-goers to Obama, she won by an equally wide margin among those 60 and older, who made up a greater share of the electorate.

And the final pre-caucus debate last week appeared to have helped Clinton: More than two-thirds of Democratic caucus-goers described it as important to their vote, and she won them by 12 points. Among those who found it less important, by contrast, Obama had a 7-point edge.

The entrance poll excluded the at-large caucuses held in nine Las Vegas casinos, making the results not fully representative of all caucus-goers. However, turnout at these nine caucuses amounted to only about 2 percent of total turnout statewide, so the noncoverage had minimal impact on the entrance poll results.

NEVADA REPS — In the Republican contest in Nevada, Romney prevailed across most groups, with particular strength among his fellow Mormons, who turned out in large numbers; mainstream Republicans; conservatives; and on the personal qualities of values and experience.

Paul, the only other Republican to run seriously in the state (and the only one to run TV ads), attracted significant support from independents and voters looking for a straight-talking candidate — good groups for McCain elsewhere, where he campaigned. Romney held 15 campaign events in Nevada, according to a Washington Post count; Paul, 11; McCain and Rudy Giuliani, three each; Huckabee, one; and Thompson, none.

While independents accounted for just 12 percent of caucus goers, the entrance poll found that Paul won 51 percent of them.

Notable in Nevada was that Mormons make up just 9 percent of the state's population, but accounted for 26 percent of Republican caucus-goers. Ninety-five percent of them supported Romney.

Romney also prevailed in non-Mormon groups, and even led Huckabee among evangelicals in the Nevada contest, 39 percent to 22 percent. After getting hammered in this group by Huckabee in Iowa, Romney won evangelicals in Michigan, 34 percent to 29 percent. And in New Hampshire they split three ways among Huckabee, Romney and McCain.

GOP caucus-goers said by a wide margin they were looking for a candidate who "shares my values"; 45 percent picked it as the top attribute. But where this worked for Huckabee in South Carolina, in Nevada these voters went for Romney by a vast margin, 59 percent to 11 percent over Paul, with just 9 percent for Huckabee.

Those looking for a candidate who has the right experience — a McCain group in South Carolina, and in New Hampshire as well — broke 59 percent for Romney, 26 percent for McCain in Nevada. Among voters looking mainly for a candidate who "says what he believes," 25 percent of all caucus-goers, Romney won 34 percent support, while Paul came close, with 27 percent.

On issues, the economy and illegal immigration vied for top spot; they were equally strong groups for Romney.

McCain, from neighboring Arizona, did best with Hispanics (about a 10th of caucus-goers), finishing a distant second in this group to Romney, 41 percent to 24 percent; among moderates, again second to Romney, 37 percent to 27 percent; and among late deciders — but again a distant second to Romney in the Nevada caucuses.

ABC News' Peyton Craighill, Brian Hartman and Rich Morin contributed to this report.