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."

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