Political momentum now shifted her way, Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton flew to Missouri, a key Feb. 5 battleground state, while rival Barack Obama hoped to rejuvenate his candidacy with the help of black voters in the South.
“Now we’re back here in the Midwest, where I’m from. I’m so happy to see all of you,” Clinton, a Chicago native, said to cheers at a campaign rally late Saturday in this St. Louis suburb.
Nevada’s presidential caucuses gave Clinton a big boost, powering her to a second straight win over Obama in the first Western contest of the 2008 calendar. She bested Obama among women, as she did in New Hampshire, and showed significant strength among Hispanic voters — an important and growing segment of the Democratic electorate in the mountain West and key states like California, Florida and New York.
But Obama won decisively among black voters, who could account for more than 50 percent of the voters in South Carolina’s primary next Saturday. And Nevada’s likely delegate count appeared to be almost evenly split between Clinton and Obama, indicating a protracted delegate battle yet to come.
Clinton acknowledged the excruciatingly tight race before departing Nevada, calling her win “one step on a long journey.”
The Nevada results still spelled trouble for Obama, whose stunning victory in the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3 has begun to fade amid evidence of his vulnerability among important demographic groups, especially white, working-class Democrats and women.
He tried to remedy that problem in Nevada, holding economic roundtables with women voters and bringing in his popular wife, Michelle, to campaign with him. But women outnumbered men among caucus-goers, and a sizable majority went with Clinton.
Obama is now under greater pressure to win South Carolina, while Clinton is mostly hoping to hold her own there. Both campaigns are also looking ahead to “mega Tuesday” Feb. 5, when more than 20 states hold contests.
Polls in South Carolina have shown black voters shifting to Obama despite their longtime loyalty to the Clintons and particularly to Bill Clinton, who was once nicknamed the first black president.
With her Nevada win, campaign officials say she will campaign hard this week in South Carolina and hope for a strong enough showing to pick up sizable number of the state’s delegates.
Former Democratic National Committee chairman Don Fowler, a South Carolinian who recently endorsed Clinton, said he was optimistic.
“I think she’s doing very well,” Fowler said. “I’m confident with the kind of campaign we’re running next week we’re going to win.”
Clinton is scheduled to attend a prayer service in South Carolina Monday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday before attending an NAACP rally at the state capitol and a nationally televised debate in Myrtle Beach.
Ferrell Guillory, director of the Program on Southern Politics at the University of North Carolina, said the former first lady needs to compete hard in South Carolina in part to address lingering questions of electability.
“Part of her political challenge is to overcome, if she can, the sense that she is a polarizing figure in the country, particularly in the South,” Guillory said.
Obama faces a different challenge in South Carolina.
While he is running to be the first black president, he rarely talks about race while pledging to unite people across the ideological and demographic spectrum. He needs to win South Carolina to restore co-frontrunner status without narrowcasting his appeal only to black voters.
If Obama does win South Carolina, both campaigns say they envision a grueling war of attrition for delegates that could potentially extend beyond mega Tuesday into early March.
Then there’s the matter of how to prioritize time and resources for the far-flung states holding contests Feb. 5. With 441 delegates, the biggest prize that day is California, where Clinton made several stops last week.
The New York senator is expected to do well in her adopted home state and in her former home state of Arkansas. Both campaigns plan to contest New Jersey, while Obama should soundly win his home state of Illinois.
The map is murkier after that. Missouri is considered a toss-up, while caucuses in Minnesota, Kansas and Colorado present a huge organizational challenge for the candidates. Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama each have a large population of black voters and are expected to favor Obama, while Clinton hopes for a strong showing in Hispanic-heavy New Mexico and Arizona.
Beth Fouhy covers presidential politics for The Associated Press. Associated Press writer Ann Sanner in Washington contributed to this story.