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McCain, Clinton look to next White House battle

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Republican John McCain and Democrat Hillary Clinton looked on Sunday toward the next battles in an unpredictable White House race after scoring tough wins in the first major presidential voting in the U.S. South and West.

McCain narrowly defeated rival Mike Huckabee on Saturday in South Carolina -- a state where McCain's presidential hopes were destroyed in a bitter 2000 battle that set George W. Bush on a path to the White House.

US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) gives two thumbs up during a campaign town hall meeting at McCluer North High School in Florissant, Missouri, January 19, 2008. (REUTERS/Mike Stone)

The Vietnam War veteran said the win would give him a boost going into the next big Republican contest on Jan. 29 in Florida, where Rudy Giuliani hoped to make his first mark.

"I still think this is very competitive," McCain said on Sunday before heading to Miami.

"I think we are doing very well. I think Florida is very important. I don't know if it's a must-win but it's certainly a very, very important race," the Arizona senator said.

Neither party has established a clear front-runner in the race to pick the two candidates to contest the Nov. 4 election to succeed Bush, as the first major state-by-state battles produced multiple winners.

Giuliani has all but staked his campaign on Florida, a populous, diverse state where polls show a tight race with McCain leading the former New York mayor as well as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

"We're ready for everybody to come down here, join us," Giuliani said on ABC's "This Week."

Among Democrats, the next big contest is on Saturday in South Carolina. In Nevada's caucus, Clinton beat Barack Obama in a close struggle that featured voting in the state's famed casino hotels. The pair had split the first two Democratic contests and ended up disputing who held the upper hand.

"I guess this is how the West was won," Clinton, a New York senator, said in Las Vegas.

Although Clinton won more votes on Saturday, Obama said his strength in some areas outside Las Vegas would give him the support of 13 delegates to Clinton's 12. Delegates select the presidential nominee at the party convention in August.

Nevada Democratic Party head Jill Derby said Obama had the edge, but the count could change by April.

Romney won a Republican contest in Nevada that his rivals largely skipped.


After South Carolina and Florida, both parties turn their attention to the Feb. 5 "Super Tuesday" round of 22 state contests, a massive shift from the intimate politics of early voting states to coast-to-coast flights and big-budget advertising campaigns.

Clinton's first stop after her Nevada victory was in St. Louis, Missouri, a state that will vote on Feb. 5.

Obama, an Illinois senator who would be the first black U.S. president, leads polls in South Carolina, where more than half of the Democratic primary voters are expected to be black.

The Florida Republican race will mark the first real test for Giuliani, who has seen his once-substantial lead in national opinion polls disappear as he limited his campaigning through the early presidential nominating contests.

Giuliani has gambled that a win in Florida would propel him to a strong day on Feb. 5 in populous states like New York, California, New Jersey and Illinois.

"Florida is a microcosm of the country," Giuliani said on Sunday on ABC.

For the victors on Saturday, the prize was a jolt of energy in a race where momentum has been short-lived.

Clinton, who would be the first U.S. woman president, won the Nevada Democratic race 51 percent to 45 percent over Obama, with turnout reported to surpass 115,000 voters. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who is hoping for a strong showing in South Carolina, finished a distant third.

In South Carolina's Republican contest, more than half of the voters were religious conservatives, but that was not enough to give the edge to Huckabee, a Baptist preacher and former Arkansas governor whose Iowa win was fueled by evangelical support.

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