Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton won the Nevada caucuses Saturday, powering past Sen. Barack Obama in a hard-fought race marred by late charges of dirty politics. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney coasted to an easy win in the Republican contest.
The victory marked a second-straight campaign triumph for the former first lady, who scored a New Hampshire primary upset last week and is locked in an historic, increasingly tense struggle with Obama.
Clinton was gaining roughly half the vote in a three-way Democratic race, with Obama at about 45 percent and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards placing a distant third.
Romney said Republicans had cast their votes for change -- and that he was the man to provide it.
"With a career spent turning around businesses, creating jobs and imposing fiscal discipline, I am ready to get my hands on Washington and turn it inside out," he said in a statement issued while he flew to Florida, site of the Jan. 29 primary.
The Republican caucuses drew relatively little candidate interest. Not so the party's South Carolina primary, the second half of a campaign doubleheader, and a duel between Sen. John McCain and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Romney was gaining more than half the vote in Nevada, leaving McCain and Texas Rep. Ron Paul in a close race for a distant second place.
Obama had pinned his hopes on an ourpouring of support from the Culinary Workers Union, which endorsed him last week. But it appeared that turnout was lighter than expected at nine caucuses established along the Las Vegas Strip for the union membership.
The Nevada Democratic contest was intense, despite the absence of negative television commercials.
The Clinton campaign said their supporters in the union had been the targets of threats designed to keep them from attending caucuses.
Obama's camp said their backers were receiving telephone calls that made repeated reference to "Barack Hussein Obama." And the Illinois senator told reporters that former President Clinton "seems to be making a habit of mischaracterizing what I say."
Interviews with Democratic caucus-goers indicated that Clinton fashioned her victory by winning about half the votes cast by whites, and two-thirds support from Hispanics, many members of the union that endorsed Obama. He won about 80 percent of the black vote.
Obama looked to next week's primary in South Carolina to counter Clinton's victory. The state is home to thousands of black voters, who are expected to comprise as much as half the Democratic electorate.
Romney's western victory marked a second straight success for the former governor, coming quickly after a first-place finish in the Michigan primary revived a faltering campaign.
He learned of his victory when his wife Ann announced it on the public address system of his chartered jet. "Keep 'em coming. Keep 'em coming," he said.
Romney had campaigned for months to win early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, and his candidacy was in trouble when he lost both. He retooled his appeal to the voters in the days leading to the Michigan primary, though, focusing on the economy and trumpeting his experience as a business leader.
En route to Florida, he presented reporters with the outlines of an ambitious economic stimulus plan, $233 billion in all, that is larger than anything that President Bush or any of his rivals has supported.
Nevada Republicans said the economy and illegal immigration were their top concerns, according to preliminary results from surveys of voters entering the caucuses. Romney led among voters who cited both issues.
Mormons gave Romney about half his votes. He is hoping to become the first member of his faith to win the White House. Alone among the Republican contenders, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas aired television ads in Nevada.